Week 7 of the 2021 Regular Session

Another week of the 2021 Regular Session is in the books. With only six legislative days left, robust discussion on critical issues is as prominent as ever.

While crafting the state budget remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we are staying the course to uphold our other legislative obligations as members of the General Assembly by passing bills that include specific reforms and amendments to keep the Commonwealth moving forward.

Activity from the Senate Chamber this week includes passage of another Senate priority bill, Senate Bill (SB) 5, of which I am proud to be a sponsor. Among numerous other measures, it is a bill that works to mitigate the negative impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Kentucky’s economy and infrastructure. In this case, notably to support and provide reassurance to various sectors of our society trying to reopen or continue operation.

If made law, SB 5 would provide liability protections for premises owners or leaseholders, including places of worship, schools, restaurants, medical facilities, and more. It would also establish essential services protections for food suppliers, manufacturers, distributors of personal protective equipment, child care service providers, and other businesses deemed essential. The measure, however, would not protect entities that act in a malicious or grossly negligent way to ignore safety orders during a state of emergency.

Other notable bills passing in the Senate this week include:

Senate Bill 128 provides any student enrolled in a Kentucky public school in grades K-12 during the 2020-21 school year the opportunity to request to participate in a temporary program during the 2021-22 school year to retake or supplement the courses or grades the student has already taken. The ultimate decision of providing this opportunity will be left to local school districts, which must decide to accept all student’s requests or none at all.

The past year has been tough on so many, but Kentucky students have significantly been negatively impacted. A recent report from The Lexington Herald-Leader shows failing grades have skyrocketed. The good news is that most school districts have returned to some form of in-person learning, but the school year is almost over now. For the most part, all of the 2020-21 school year has remained virtual, and while districts, teachers, and parents or other guardians have done their best, distance learning has been inadequate for many of our kids. Some children may not have the support they need at home. Our rural communities with broadband issues have proven to be a challenge for families. Quite simply, our students have missed their teachers, friends, and vital emotional and social experiences they deserve. SB 128 will provide local school districts with the ability to do right by students and families determining it is in their best interest to take advantage of a supplemental year of education. It will ensure participating seniors’ preparedness for whatever their next chapter in life is, and all students the peace of mind knowing the pandemic will not cause them to be left behind.

Senate Bill 181 is a companion bill to House Bill (HB) 4, a bill that made final passage this week. HB 4 is a constitutional amendment bill, so it does not require the governor’s signature. Instead, it will go before you, the voters, on the next general election ballot. If supported by a majority of voters, HB 4 would provide the General Assembly with the ability to call itself back into session. SB 181 would establish the Senate President’s and House Speaker’s power to reconvene the

General Assembly for up to twelve additional legislative days via joint proclamation. Additionally, it would allow for any bills filed by the deadline of the close of a Regular Session to survive until December 31 of that same year.

Senate Bill 228 would reform how a U.S. Senator of Kentucky is replaced should a vacancy occur. The bill would establish that the departing senator’s state party would nominate three people from which the governor would select. That individual would serve out the remainder of the term. Additionally, it sets stipulations about how long a replacement can serve before voters get to elect someone to take over that seat and establishes provisions about how such elections should be held.

Bills headed to the governor’s desk for consideration include:

House Bill 7 establishes a Recovery Ready Community council and program for cities and counties that want to demonstrate their addiction recovery commitment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 83,000 people died in the twelve months ending in July 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened addiction. The state has worked hard over the years to combat the scourge of drug addiction. Although the challenge is difficult, we must continue efforts to address the abuse of opioids and other narcotics. HB 7 is one more step in saving lives.

House Bill 8 allows quasi-governmental organizations, such as local health departments and mental health centers, to pay back unfunded liabilities owed to the Kentucky Retirement Systems for Employees using a liability based system instead of a percent of payroll. By changing to a liability based contribution method, HB 8 provides assurance for accurate payment assumptions, allowing these agencies to adequately plan each fiscal year therefore reducing the risk of having to cut back on staff and services. HB 8 also establishes an intent that the general assembly will pay the increased cost associated with this bill for the first year.

House Bill 208 addresses the issue of getting our students back into schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Under this bill, local school districts MUST offer, at least, a hybrid schedule where all students are able to attend in-person classes a minimum of two days a week by March 29, 2021. Districts would still be able to offer virtual or remote learning for students whose Parents/Guardians provide written requests due to COVID-19 concerns. As a society, we have figured out a way to safely open restaurants, shopping malls, and movie theaters. It is time we finally do the same for Kentucky’s youth by prioritizing a pathway to normalcy for our schools.

You can learn more about these bills and others by visiting www.legislature.ky.gov. Thank you for staying engaged in the legislative process. It is an honor to serve you in Frankfort.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me Damon.Thayer@LRC.ky.gov.

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