I want to begin by applauding the efforts of our local leaders, medical professionals, first responders, and teachers who are going above and beyond to deal with the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a sense of relief brought by seeing informative updates from the County Judge Executive, the grueling work of our nurses, and the dedicated work of professionals to ensure communities are safe and students are fed. These are heroes of our community. Please join me in taking the time to let them know they are appreciated.

As Kentuckians across the Bluegrass have remained committed to their obligations to their respective communities, the Kentucky General Assembly remained committed to fulfilling its constitutional obligation to pass a two-year state budget this past week of the legislative session. Due to the ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19, the General Assembly - along with the assistance of incredible legislative staff - moved expeditiously to make sure our Constitutional responsibilities were met while prioritizing the safety of lawmakers and staff. Following guidelines recommended by President Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only the most essential staff members were on duty last week, and they cannot be complimented enough.

On Thursday, the Senate Passed House Bill (HB) 352, the biennial budget bill. The efforts in getting to this point in the budget process have required intensive reviews, substantive discussions, and very late nights. It is not a perfect budget proposal, especially with the uncertainty currently surrounding our economy, but it is a step in the budget process. I want to make it abundantly clear, however, that budget process is not over.

Though the bill has passed both the House and the Senate, there are still conversations to be had between the two chambers, as well as the Governor’s Office. The budget in its current form will not be the final version. There are things I agree with in the bill and certain items in which I do not agree. I will continue to advocate for those things that are best for the 21st District and its citizens. I will do that as the conference committee between selected House and Senate members takes place this week. I do not take my responsibility to you for granted.

Out of precaution, after the budget bill passed on Thursday, House and Senate leaders announced that the two chambers would be adjourning until Thursday, March 26. At that time, we will be able to gavel back into the session to continue the important legislative business. By making this decision, we complete our obligation to people of the Commonwealth, and our oath to the Constitution. It also protects the General Assembly’s constitutional authority to override any vetoes the governor may issue, a constitutional power granted to him.

So many people have worked hard this session to move high-quality bills through the legislative process. I am most proud of bills like Senate Bill 9, the born alive infant protection act, and bills that benefit Kentucky military personnel and protect our students. I find it unthinkable that the General Assembly would walk away now, and risk potential vetoes from the governor on good legislation. Preserving our veto override is essential to honoring the separation of powers our government is founded upon and ensuring the voices of Kentucky citizens are heard, through the passage of legislation reflecting Kentucky values. I will not forgo the constitutional authority of the legislative branch.

Week 11 was the most unique week I have experienced in my time serving you in Frankfort. Legislative efforts throughout the week were nonetheless vital. I want to share with you some of the bills that we were able to send to the governor’s desk for his consideration as we worked through the budget process. A few included:

Senate Bill 75 - Would enable counties - rural counties in particular - to strengthen their recreational tourism efforts, as the bill designates off-highway vehicles as a motorized vehicle for recreational purposes. This bill is particularly suitable for areas of Kentucky like the 21st District that has so much to offer in the realm of tourism. The bill will also lead to improved revenues for counties that need it most.

House Bill 336 - Increases the minimum amount for advertising and bidding school building projects from $7,500 to $30,000. Under current statute, school districts are required to get a minimum of three bids if a project will cost over $7,500. That process is burdensome for communities and is a lengthy process that causes delays in the completion of the projects. That mandate is required even if the project is as simple as repaving a sidewalk. Making that minimum $30,000 will allow school districts to go out and get necessary projects done without the red tape that ties Kentucky school district’s hands. The $30,000 minimum has already been implemented for the purchasing of materials and supplies. This bill brings building projects in line with that.

Senate Bill 177 - This may be the most important bill that was passed all week, and it reflects exactly why it was necessary for the General Assembly to remain in session while taking safety precautions recommended by the CDC. SB 177 allows our Kentucky schools to us unlimited remote learning days while closed for the coronavirus. Without this legislation, schools are only permitted 10 per year. This provides much-needed flexibility to our schools, frees our wonderful teachers to do what they do best, and provides a way that our students can continue receiving an education despite the inability to be physically in school classrooms.

Numerous other beneficial bills passed the Senate. You can find those bills at https://legislature.ky.gov .

Despite the frustrations that the coronavirus has brought with it, and the limitations that the governor has necessarily placed on visits to the State Capitol, I still want to receive feedback from you. If you have thoughts or suggestions, I would ask that you call and leave me a message at 1-800-372-7181 or send me an email to albert.robinson@lrc.ky.gov. Your health and safety is my top priority.

The Kentucky Educational Television (KET) network, along with the Legislative Research Commission are going the extra mile to assure that you have access to the continued efforts of the General Assembly. I encourage you to tune in at https://ket.org/legislature.

God bless you and be safe and healthy throughout the remainder of the coronavirus concerns.

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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