2021 Legislative Update

The Kentucky General Assembly has wrapped up proceedings for the 2021 Regular Session and adjourned “sine die.” Our final legislative days consisted of overriding gubernatorial vetoes, finishing the state budget and approving several other measures that will impact the Commonwealth. 

To adjourn “sine die” means without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing, or to close official business for an indefinite period. For Kentucky lawmakers, the phrase means the current legislative session has ended. 

Our constitutionally mandated veto recess was brief, but concluded with over 20 bills receiving vetoes from the Governor. These bills and other remaining business resulted in a packed agenda for both chambers on the last two days.

Again, the legislature exercised its constitutional right to override vetoes. Bills that did not withstand the Governor’s veto address a variety of issues including child care, public protection, elections, delinquent child support payments, local government regulations, and much more. Several of these measures will go into effect 90 days after adjournment, except for those that specify a different effective date or include an emergency clause that makes them take effect the instant they become law.

Notably, lawmakers voted to override the governor’s veto on all or parts of House Bill 320House Bill 192 and House Bill 195, which all related to the state budget. Much of our final days in Frankfort was spent passing a series of measures to spend a little more than half of the $2.63 billion that state received directly from the American Rescue Plan Act, known as ARPA.

The largest appropriation of ARPA money was $575 million to pay back a federal loan the state took out to cover a surge of unemployment benefit claims made during the height of the pandemic.

Without the appropriation, Kentucky businesses faced an increase in employment insurance taxes to cover the interest and principal on the federal loan. Small businesses and some nonprofits are in no financial position to pay increased unemployment insurance taxes. The money was contained in language added to House Bill 382.

The second largest appropriation was a total of $300 million for broadband expansion contained in the language added to HB 382 and in House Bill 320. The pandemic highlighted the need for broadband service in rural Kentucky and I am pleased that this money will go towards helping our communities stay connected. 

The third largest was $250 million for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure improvements. This addresses the lack of clean drinking water in some rural communities. In addition, it provides some relief from costly federal consent decrees concerning wastewater. This money was contained in language added to Senate Bill 36.

The fourth was $127 million to renovate or replace old school buildings. It is evident that too many schools, some of which date to the ‘30s, are in dire need of repair. This money was contained in language added to House Bill 556.

Also included in HB 556, $37 million was allocated to mitigate the spread of COVID–19 in congregate or vulnerable population settings. The Justice and Public Safety Cabinet will distribute the money through the awarding of grants. 

On top of spending ARPA money, the General Assembly appropriated state tax dollars in addition to what was included in the roughly $12 billion executive branch budget (House Bill 192) passed earlier in the session.

The additional appropriations included $140 million for full-day kindergarten. State government currently provides funding for only half-day kindergarten although most districts use local taxpayer money to offer a full-day option. Expanding kindergarten funding would free up local tax dollars for other much-needed school programs. The money was contained in language added to HB 382.

There was also $75 million for renovating vocational education centers; $30 million of incentives for local jails to provide treatment and training programs, $20 million for a rural hospital revolving loan program, $14.7 million for technology to offer virtual court hearings and $10 million for a tax increment financing (TIF) district in west Louisville. TIFs are widely used across the country as economic development tools. All of these appropriations were contained in HB 556.

HB 382, SB 36 and HB 556 were delivered to the governor who has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign, veto or allow them to become law without his signature.  

The bills were among nearly 200, including two proposed constitutional amendments, passed during the 30-day session. Many of the bills were similar to measures that were introduced last year but didn’t have a chance to make it through the legislative process after COVID-19 cut the session short. 

Several other notable bills received final passage this week, including: 

Senate Bill 4 limits and sets guidelines for the use of no-knock warrants, which allow officers to enter premises without notice. Under this legislation, such warrants would be allowed in limited instances if someone was in immediate danger or in other cases, such as those involving violent crimes or terrorism. These warrants would have to be executed by a SWAT team or a team with special training. The bill also specifies in statute that it would be perjury if an officer made a false statement in an application for a no-knock warrant.

Senate Bill 5 provides liability protections for premises owners or leaseholders, including places of worship, schools, restaurants, medical facilities, and more. It also establishes 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.

House Bill 91 will allow Kentucky voters to decide next year whether to add the following words to the state constitution: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” 

We concluded the 30-day session shortly before midnight on Tuesday, March 30. However, work in Frankfort will continue throughout the year. To provide a continuity of study and action between sessions, interim joint committees are formed to discuss issues in-depth for the 2022 Regular Session. More information on these will be available at a later date. 

Thank you for all of your questions, comments, and support. I will be sending a full recap of this session’s events in the coming weeks. 

I look forward to continued discussion on a number of issues facing our district and the Commonwealth. It is always an honor to represent you. 

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. You can also review the legislature’s work online at www.legislature.ky.gov

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