The 2020 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly will be remembered as one of the most unprecedented in Kentucky history. This comes as no surprise as the world, nation, and our Commonwealth are still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Though it has been difficult for everyone, I am happy to see Kentuckians pulling together like never before.

The General Assembly was required to pull together as well in order to complete our constitutional obligation to pass a state budget. Doing so ensures the continuation of our state government's most vital operations; something that is more essential now than ever before.

In past updates, I have shared with you the process of crafting a state budget. The Governor makes initial proposals to the General Assembly, then our State House of Representatives drafts a budget proposal of its own and sends it to the Senate. Once the Senate crafts a proposal, the two chambers select members for what is called a “conference committee.” In the last week, that committee worked diligently to discuss the state budget and come to an agreement on a final bill.

Given the uncertainty that has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision of Senate and House leaders was to formulate a budget for a single year rather than two years. The budget will cover the fiscal year 2020-2021. In doing so, it will allow the General Assembly to return for next year’s legislative session with a better understanding of how much COVID-19 has negatively influenced our state’s revenues, and budget for the second year with that information available. The single year that the budget will cover was allocated using the most pessimistic of revenue assumptions which assumes that we will come in hundreds of millions of dollars short of revenue projections as a result of COVID-19’s economic impact.

While it is not perfect -and no budget ever is- the final product is one that has received bipartisan support in both chambers as it passed. In the Senate, there was not a single vote in opposition, and it received the support of more than 80 representatives in the 100 hundred member House. It is fitting that in a health emergency in which we must keep a safe distance from those we care about, the General Assembly was able to come together in a unified manner, complete our constitutional obligation to the people of Kentucky, and ensure the continued operation of government and advancement of civil society by successfully passing a budget.

The bill is now on its way to the Governor for his consideration along with the state revenue bill and budgets for the legislative and judicial branches of government. The state budget bill is House Bill 352, and it can be found in its entirety at https://legislature.ky.gov. The passing of this one-year state budget is in and of itself a response to COVID-19, as it provides millions to the Kentucky Poison Control Center that is currently operating the state’s COVID-19 Hotline. The budget does this while also meeting obligations to the state pension systems, providing millions of dollars for school safety provisions laid out in last year’s Senate Bill 1, maintains per-pupil levels of education funding, and provides for public health and safety.

There is no doubt that the final budget looks a lot different than what it would have without the COVID-19 pandemic. I am nonetheless pleased with the budget's ability to provide a sense of calm during the storm. I look forward to the brighter days ahead on the other side of it.

The COVID-19 relief bill that passed the General Assembly the previous week has been signed by the governor and takes immediate effect. The relief bill took a broad approach by including measures to provide stability to our healthcare system, assist businesses forced to close down, and maintain governmental functions that have slowly stopped amid social distancing.

A key provision of that bill extends unemployment eligibility to the self-employed including many small business owners and employees like freelancers, independent contractors, and ride-share drivers. Unemployment claims have skyrocketed and were expected to quickly deplete the $600 million that covers unemployment benefits. However, federal stimulus legislation that was signed by the President is going to assist in providing relief on that front as well.

The bill allows the state medical board to let out-of-state doctors practice in Kentucky, expands telehealth, permits providers to continue to treat clients for such things as addiction, and grants health care providers civil immunity in some cases.

Relief to businesses would come by waiving licensing fees for some, suspending penalties and interest due for taxpayers who take advantage of a filing deadline extension, and loosening of commercial driver’s licenses requirements for agricultural businesses.

Municipalities, counties, and other government agencies would be able to meet open meeting laws by broadcasting gatherings live. In addition, the groups would have more time to respond to open record requests. Various governmental hearings, such as ones dealing with zoning issues, could also be delayed.

The bill also codifies some actions already called for in various executive orders issued during this state of emergency.

The COVID-19 relief bill and the state budget are examples of what can be done when we stand united, not divided. Our state motto has never been more meaningful than now. It is my true honor to serve as your Senator.

The General Assembly will be adjourned until Monday, April 13 out of an abundance of caution, as we continue to grapple with COVID-19 At that time the legislature will be able to consider overriding any gubernatorial vetoes the governor may issue.

As we continue to work together to get through the pandemic, keep in mind all of the information that has been shared with you over the recent weeks by the President, Governor, and in my recent legislative updates. Maintaining safety precautions is essential during this time to prevent the spread of the disease. Remember to social distance yourself from others (6 feet apart) and avoid large crowds as best you can. Only leave home to purchase groceries and essential items once a week. While doing so, be mindful of others who are providing for their loved ones as well. Always wash your hands thoroughly for 20 or more seconds and avoid touching your face.

All of this information and much more is available at kycovid19.ky.gov. If your employment has been affected by the shutdown of businesses, please visit kcc.ky.gov to apply and find more information. Finally, if you have concerns about a business or other entity not complying with the guidelines, you can call the KY Safer hotline at 1-833-KYSAFER.

As always, utilize this great resource, your local paper, for all the latest updates and information. I am grateful to be able to communicate with you through this platform.

Do not hesitate to contact me at albert.robinson@lrc.ky.gov if you have any questions or concerns. God bless each of you. Stay safe.

Senator Albert Robinson (R-London) represents the 21st District comprised of Laurel, Jackson, Estill, Powell, Menifee and Bath Counties. Senator Robinson serves as the chairman of the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee. He is also a member of the Banking and Insurance Committee; the State and Local Government Committee; the Transportation Committee, and the Mileage-Based Transportation Funding Task Force.

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