Lawmakers reach halfway point of 2021 Session
Lawmakers reach halfway point of 2021 Session
Representative Richard White
As we begin March, it is hard to believe that this will be our last full week of this year’s session. Last Wednesday was the last day lawmakers could file new legislation and though this is considered a short session, nearly 900 bills have been filed for consideration in both the House and the Senate. As you can imagine, nowhere near that number will be passed into law but we are focused on what our state needs today, and how we can best prepare for tomorrow. I appreciate the opportunity to highlight some of the legislation that passed through the House during the last week of February.
The House worked in a bipartisan manner to unanimously pass a measure to address the skyrocketing cost of insulin. HB 95 would mandate prescription insulin costs no more than $30 per thirty-day supply, regardless of the amount or type of insulin needed to meet the person's insulin needs. HB 95 would apply to private and public healthcare plans. Thirteen other states have already passed similar measures.
HB 44 also passed unanimously and would allocate funding for full-time and volunteer firefighters experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) to receive proper care from a licensed mental health professional. This program would be funded through the fire commission just as law enforcement coverage is provided through the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund. The bill would also allow firefighters to undergo crisis intervention training, which teaches law enforcement and firefighters how to effectively respond to persons suffering from a mental health or substance abuse crisis.
The House affirmed its commitment to protecting the innocent unborn with the passage of HB 91, legislation that would allow Kentuckians to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment clarifying that the Kentucky Constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion, nor public funding of abortions. The measure states that nothing in the Kentucky Constitution be interpreted to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion. If the bill becomes law, Kentucky voters will have the opportunity to approve the constitutional change in the 2022 General Election.
We also continue to work to make this one of the most pro-jobs states in the nation. This week we approved HB 413, which provides temporary unemployment insurance tax relief to businesses struggling under the COVID-19 public health emergency. HB 413 states that benefits related to a state of emergency or disaster declaration be paid from the pooled account rather than an employer’s reserve account. The bill also waives the surcharge assessment for 2021 or 2022, allowing employers some relief and preserving jobs. Many employers face an increase in their unemployment insurance contributions at a time when their businesses are struggling. The last thing we want to do is force employers to choose between letting staff go and paying their tax bills. In addition, we approved HB 278, which would conform Kentucky law to federal law to allow deductions paid with proceeds from loans made under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It will help struggling small businesses and the self-employed by offering tax relief on state tax filings for entities who received federal PPP loans. This legislation would conform Kentucky law to existing federal statutes created by The Heroes Act.
If we want jobs, we have to have a skilled and educated workforce, which makes the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) Program even more important. This scholarship program was the focus of two pieces of legislation passed by the House this week. HB 25 would eliminate a barrier to higher education for convicted felons who have served their time. Current law states that KEES-recipients who commits a felony are disqualified from using the KEES monies they earned in high school. I also joined my colleagues in approving HB 338, which seeks to allow scholarships earned by Kentucky students through the KEES program to be used to pursue a career in the trade industries. Trades like welding are critical to Kentucky’s well-being and are in high demand.
HB 206 is a win for Kentucky children and the men and women who serve us in the National Guard. This bill would raise the number of available qualifying members of the Guard that would be eligible for up to $7,000 of adoption costs of a special-needs child and up to $5,000 for the adoption costs of any other child. The Kentucky National Guard Adoption Assistance Program was created in 2012 and allows active members of the Kentucky Air and Army National Guard to be reimbursed for a portion of the costs incurred during the adoption process. If enacted into law, it would match the amount allotted for state employees.
The right to vote in a free, honest, and fair election is the most basic civil right. It is one of the most important rights on which the American people depend. Citizens must have confidence in our electoral process, free from fraud and interference. This Commonwealth deserves to know that every vote that is cast is a valid one. That is why I was proud to support HCR 47. This resolution is important to establish election integrity and a security task force to review and study the current election process in the state of Kentucky.
We also approved an elections reform bill, HB 574. If passed by the Senate and approved by the Governor, this measure would bring permanent changes for both voters and election officials. Voters would enjoy three days of early in-person voting, the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before an election with no excuse required for Saturday voting. The state would also transition toward paper ballots in every precinct and election. HB 574 also permits counties to use vote centers – where any voter may go regardless of their home precinct – to offer more convenient and efficient voting.
HB 574 also increases state election officials the ability to remove nonresident voters from the voter rolls. The online voter portal utilized during the 2020 elections would continue so that absentee balloting is fully transparent to both voters and election officials. You may remember that the portal provided an opportunity to “track” an individual absentee ballot to ensure it was received. Also, HB 574 contains some election security language. It expressly prohibits ballot harvesting and establishes a penalty for it and continues the signature cure process that allows absentee voters whose signatures have changed over time to prove identity and have their ballots counted. In addition, registered voters who are not registered as Democrats or Republicans to serve as poll workers – providing a larger pool of volunteers to draw from and engaging more people in the election process.
All of these measures that were passed in the House this week now move on to the Senate. As always, if you have any questions or comments about this session, I can be reached during the week from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (EST) through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Richard.White@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov and you can also follow me on Facebook @WhiteforKY.