This week, the General Assembly returns to the Capitol for two days to put the finishing touches on a legislative session that’s ending far differently than expected.
In January, when the session began, other legislators and I were looking forward to working with a new governor and passing a budget that promised no widespread cuts for the first time in a dozen years.
Now, however, we leave Frankfort facing an uncertain future for government and all of Kentucky because of the coronavirus. Still, there is also a lot of pride in the way we have risen to the occasion and become a leader among the states during this difficult time. We have shown we truly understand what it means to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper.
Like the end of all legislative sessions, the General Assembly’s primary focus during these two days will be considering vetoes the governor has issued. Governor Beshear has signed most bills sent to him into law, but he rejected several others and indicated he also would line-item veto portions of the state budget, the only type of bill where a governor can strike some language but accept the rest.
It is too soon to say whether the vetoes will be overridden, but it only takes a simple majority instead of the two-thirds requirement that Congress must meet.
The most prominent legislation vetoed is Senate Bill 2, which would require voters to show a photo ID before casting a ballot. The question is whether such a law is needed, since voters already have to show some form of ID and there’s not been a single case in decades of in-person voter fraud.
What makes this bill especially problematic is that, if enacted, it will be in place by November’s election, even though all state offices offering IDs are closed to the public and may not be open for weeks. This especially impacts those who qualify for the bill’s free ID, itself a potentially expensive requirement based on what other states have seen. Indiana, for example, spent more than $10 million for its free IDs between 2007 and 2010.
Another bill Governor Beshear vetoed would allow candidates running for governor to select a running mate after the primary for that office. Although I am open to this change, the governor rightfully notes that the 1992 constitutional amendment voters approved requires candidates to select their running mate before they can start their campaign. No law can override a constitutional requirement.
One bill I am especially glad the governor vetoed would make it possible for local governments in heavily populated counties to put their legal notices online rather than in their local newspaper. Although that wouldn’t apply here locally, this would be a step in that direction if allowed. Many Kentuckians still don’t have access to the Internet, and the loss of these public notices in our local newspapers could be devastating financially to these already struggling businesses.
As we wait to see what vetoes are considered this week, there are also plans to vote on several other bills, which I will cover more in-depth next week.
Overall, despite a reduced schedule caused by the coronavirus, there were quite a few good laws to pass during this year’s legislative session.
One will build on last year’s school-safety measure by setting aside more concrete goals when it comes to hiring additional guidance counselors and school resource officers. The budget also includes nearly $40 million to help schools implement these and other safety requirements.
For years, our cities and counties have asked for more oversight of their public retirement system, and now they’ll have it. This new law won’t completely separate their plan from Kentucky Retirement Systems, but it will give them much more control over their investments.
Our public health departments will get a boost thanks to another law that will have the state shifting dollars to more rural areas while calling on the departments to focus more on their core services.
In another important healthcare matter, physician assistants will soon be able to prescribe controlled substances. Kentucky is the last state to make this possible, and I’m glad we could get this done because of the important role physician assistants play.
In other new laws, veterans will soon have a new nursing home dedicated to them in Bowling Green – the fifth in the commonwealth – and there are early plans to have the sixth built nearby in Magoffin County. For eastern Kentucky, this will complement the one built nearly 20 years ago in Hazard.