|Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, comments on House Bill 1, a bill relating to the reopening of the economy, in the House. LRC. |
But it’s not just the facemasks, the social distancing, or the new faces among a particularly large class of freshman legislators. It’s also the speed at which lawmakers kicked the lawmaking process into gear after convening on Tuesday.
The opening days of General Assembly sessions in odd-numbered years are for “electing legislative leaders, adopting rules of procedure, organizing committees, and introducing and considering legislation,” in the words of the state constitution. In practice, the focus is often on the list’s first few items – the organizational tasks needed to structure the session. It’s not uncommon for the last item on the list – considering bills – to be mostly reserved until after a recess period ends in early February.
This year, there was no reserving anything. Lawmakers began moving priority legislation in the earliest hours of the session. What’s more, they adjusted the session calendar to add a Saturday workday to their schedule and made plans to continue working several days into next week before starting a constitutionally required recess that usually begins earlier.
The busy start is, in part, an expression of many lawmakers’ eagerness to weigh in on executive orders, regulations, and the range of actions they’ve seen Gov. Andy Beshear take over the past year in response to the pandemic. People across the state have staked out positions on how far the state should go in protecting people from COVID-19 through actions like limiting in-person dining at restaurants and in-person classes at schools. This is the first chance lawmakers have had to address such matters since last year’s legislative session ended.
House Bill 1 – a designation that indicates the importance of the legislation to House majority leadership – aims to provide relief to businesses and individuals during the COVID-19 state of emergency and provide guidelines on the safe opening of businesses and schools. It would suspend interest on unpaid unemployment insurance contributions until next year. The bill would also provide guidelines for noncustodial parental visitation during the state of emergency and would allow each resident at long-term care facilities designate an “essential personal care visitor” that would be exempt from visitor restrictions. The bill was approved by the House 70-25 on Thursday and by the Senate 28-7 on Saturday. It now goes to the governor’s desk.
Likewise, priority bills of Senate majority leadership also moved forward this week. Senate Bill 1, legislation dealing with emergency orders, passed the Senate on Thursday on a 27-9-1 vote and cleared the House Saturday on a 75-21 vote. The measure would require that executive orders that restrict the function of schools, businesses or nonprofits expire after 30 days unless extended by the General Assembly. The same would go for executive orders that regulate political, religious and social gatherings or impose mandatory quarantines for isolation requirements.
Another measure, Senate Bill 2, would require that administrative regulations last no longer than 30 days in some cases, such as imposing restrictions on gatherings or imposing mandatory quarantine requirements. That measure passed the Senate 31-6 on Thursday and passed the House 74-21 on Saturday. It now goes to the governor’s desk.
In other highlights this week, lawmakers held a joint session of the Senate and House to hear Gov. Andy Beshear’s State of the Commonwealth and Budget Address. In a departure from the usual in-person speech that draws hundreds of people to the House chamber and gallery, the governor gave a socially distanced speech by appearing in a pre-recorded address from his office that laid out his proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year.
Now that lawmakers have received the governor’s spending proposal, it’s their turn to start considering changes that will ensure they end up with a budget plan that reflects their own priorities and concerns. Their intention is to have the state’s next one-year budget approved before the scheduled end of this year’s legislative session in late March.
Although the pandemic has prompted temporary visitor restrictions at the Capitol, there are many ways for citizens to stay connected with the work of the Kentucky General Assembly. The General Assembly’s website, legislature.ky.gov, allows you to:
· See the General Assembly’s daily schedule.
· Find out how to contact the lawmakers.
· Read bills and resolutions.
· Receive notice via email when a bill you are interested in advances.
· See how lawmakers voted on bills and resolutions.
· View agendas and informational materials on topics being considered by committees.
Livestreams of legislative action can be viewed through feeds provided by Kentucky Educational Television (KET) and the Legislative Research Commission (LRC.) In recent months, LRC has made significant tech upgrades in committee rooms to improve livestreams for those viewing meetings remotely. KET livestreams all chamber proceedings and many committee meetings. Any meetings not covered by KET are livestreamed by LRC. For links to livestreams, go to the Kentucky General Assembly Website and click on the “Live Coverage” button in the lower right corner.