LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: State legislature responds to COVID-19 with crucial relief bill

On Thursday, March 27, the Kentucky General Assembly convened for day 50 of the 2020 Regular Session. Though our top priority is passing a budget, it also falls to the legislature to help provide relief to Kentuckians suffering as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are, after all, the only branch of state government that can pass laws. Thousands of Kentuckians are struggling through no fault of their own. Parents can’t work, children can’t go to school, and business owners who are the backbone of our communities have had to close their doors.

Our priority is the health and safety of our people. We all recognize that these actions come at a cost felt by all Kentuckians, and the Kentucky General Assembly is already at work to lessen the burden.

Of course, this is not the first time in our history that we have been called to make sacrifices. In the first half of the 20th Century, this country faced two World Wars, the Spanish Fever Pandemic, and an economic crisis that crushed the American economy. When the dark days were over, Americans switched from recovery to rebuilding. With vision, leadership, and cooperation, we can do the same.

Before leaving Frankfort, I was honored to cast a vote for SB 150, referred to as the “COVID relief bill.” The bill does a number of things to move us through both the health and economic repercussions of COVID-19.

SB 150 provides relief for Kentucky workers: Those who lose their jobs or see their hours cut because of COVID-19’s impact on the economy will be able to access unemployment benefits immediately as SB 150 removes the seven-day waiting period. The measure also extends benefits to self-employed and others who would typically not be eligible. The bill’s provisions also allow employees who have been reduced to part-time status to draw a partial benefit. We have seen a record number of people reach out to unemployment insurance, and that number will only grow in the weeks to come.

SB 150 also includes help for business owners: Its provisions include language that prevents a business owner’s unemployment insurance rate from being adversely impacted because they had to lay off employees as a result of COVID-19. The bill also permits the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet to seek assistance from the federal government and use other resources to reimburse the unemployment insurance trust fund. We have seen a record number of people apply for unemployment insurance, and I think that number will only grow in the weeks to come. I believe that SB 150 makes the unemployment insurance program even more valuable as a safety net and helps set the stage for our recovery.

It encourages the production of PPEs and other supplies: Because many manufacturers and other businesses have voiced an interest in joining the efforts against COVID-19, we granted immunity to those that can switch to making products like personal protective equipment or personal hygiene supplies.

It cuts through red tape to help our farmers: We know our agricultural community is working even harder to get food and other goods to market. Through SB 150, we suspended a requirement that they get a temporary restricted CDL license for farm-related activities.

It helps the medical providers who are dealing with COVID-19: These men and women are mothers, fathers, children, and parents who balance their own needs while trying to keep us healthy, heal the sick, and find ways to stop the spread. They deserve our prayers, our attention, and our support. SB 150 will help support them by deeming physical and occupational therapists essential health care providers during this state of emergency. It also provides legal immunity for health care providers who in good faith render care or treatment during the state of emergency. The state boards of Medical Licensure, Emergency Medical Services, and Nursing will also be able to waive or modify certain laws. With this, we give flexibility to those who have the experience and knowledge to make the best decisions.

When I drove home from the Capitol, I saw so many businesses closed, so few people out and about. As a pharmacist, I have no doubt that we are doing the right thing. I support what our public health agencies are doing to "flatten the curve" and slow the spread of COVID-19. As a small business owner, I have witnessed first hand the struggles people are facing, and realize it is easy to get discouraged. We must remember that Kentuckians are strong and we are resilient. When we stand united in times of trouble, we can meet even the greatest of challenges.

The General Assembly will return to Frankfort on April 1, when we will wrap up the budget and adjourn. Until then and in the weeks and months to come, we will continue working to help move Kentucky – and Kentuckians – through this crisis. In the meantime, I can still be reached through the toll-free message line if you have any comments or questions, just call 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at . You can also keep track through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov.

Rep. Robert Goforth is from East Bernstadt and represents the 89th district in Kentucky.

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