Early this week, when other House and Senate leaders and I sat down to work on a budget compromise, we all immediately agreed on one thing: This situation is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes.
The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus and the potential impact of a federal relief package make predicting the next few months difficult, much less the next two years that the state budget will cover. No one can know for sure what will happen during this time, but the hope, of course, is that our normal way of life will return sooner rather than later.
As my fellow legislators and I try to come up with a spending plan that will help the state navigate its way forward, I want to say how proud I am of the way we as Kentuckians have handled ourselves since this crisis began early this month.
I also want to thank everyone who has helped to keep us safe, healthy, and fed, and who have made sure our children keep learning while they are out of school. As the number of our citizens with COVID-19 goes up, I’m praying we have been proactive enough to keep it from spreading widely.
It will take all of us to make that happen. Our success depends on staying home as much as possible, keeping our distance from others when out, washing our hands regularly and routinely disinfecting common items like counters and doorknobs.
At the Capitol, we’ve taken similar steps to keep legislators and staff safe, although I wish we had done even more.
The House and Senate were there last week for three days, but several members stayed at home because they are part of high-risk populations. Many of my fellow legislators and I argued we should all be back home until this crisis passes, much as legislatures in other states have done.
Governor Beshear promised to call us back into a special session to adopt any needed emergency measurers and the budget, but legislative leaders regrettably chose not to go that route.
Since we were going to meet, I believe we should have just focused on legislation we have to have right now, but that didn’t happen, either. I just do not think we should be passing non-related bills when the public is not even allowed inside the Capitol.
On the positive side, the House did vote for two bills that are needed during this time. One would give our schools more tools to deal with these long absences, while the other would provide more emergency powers to Governor Andy Beshear and his administration as they work to limit the coronavirus’ impact here in Kentucky and to help those who have lost their jobs.
On the downside, one of the bills to pass last week will potentially make it tougher for many to vote in November and beyond. Senate Bill 2 will require voters to show a photo ID, although current law already requires some form of identification when voting. In addition, there has not been a single example of in-person voting fraud in at least two decades.
Under this bill, if you have moved here recently from another state and still have a valid driver’s license from there, that no longer will be enough to vote. Women who have recently married or divorced could be affected, too, if their name doesn’t match their ID.
In the coming years, when Kentucky fully transitions to a regional approach in issuing driver’s licenses, even more of our citizens will have a difficult time meeting this rule, despite the free IDs the bill calls for and which alone could cost us millions of tax dollars. Ultimately, this legislation will likely be decided by the courts, as it has been in other states.
As we wait to see how that plays out, I want to make sure everyone is aware of what resources are available when it comes to the coronavirus and how to access safety-net programs if you need them.
The website for the latest news can be found at kycovid19.ky.gov, while the toll-free line to use if you have any questions about the coronavirus is (800) 722-5725. The website to see all of the state actions in one location can be found here: governor.ky.gov/covid19.
If you are unemployed, the website to apply for benefits is kcc.ky.gov/. Because the volume of claims is up dramatically, the state has been staggering applications using the first letter of the last name. If you miss your window, you can apply on Friday this week, and if you’d rather call, the number is 502-875-0442.
If there is any way I can help you connect with these programs, or if you have questions or concerns about issues affecting Kentucky, you can always email me at Angie.Hatton@lrc.ky.gov, while the toll-free message line for all state legislators is 1-800-372-7181.