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Senator Turner calls for unity

No matter how you think the health crisis is being handled, this is a time when we should unite. Our fellow Kentuckians are dying on a daily basis. I understand this is not the “normal” we are accustomed to experiencing, and it has changed our ordinary routines. It is frustrating, certainly. However, we must stand together and with one voice denounce any acts of violence against one another. We will get through this, but only if we do our part to come together and work together to defeat the threat!

The Kentucky General Assembly concluded the 2020 Regular Session and adjourned Sine Die. Attempts to promote social distancing, which closed the Capitol to the public, left the marble corridors of the century-old structure calmer than normal for a budget session. Ultimately, legislators gaveled in for only 53 days — adjourning seven days short of what is permitted by the Constitution of Kentucky.

COVID-19 relief bills quickly came to the forefront and were immediately enacted by emergency clauses in the waning days. Members went from considering drafts of a two-year state budget to ultimately passing an unconventional one-year spending plan, refocusing efforts on the potential economic fallout from the pandemic.

One such measure, Senate Bill (SB) 150, loosened requirements for unemployment benefits and extended help to self-employed workers and others who would otherwise not be eligible. It also expanded telemedicine options by allowing out-of-state providers to accept Kentucky patients, offered immunity for healthcare workers who render care or treatment in good faith during the current state of emergency, pushed the state’s income tax filing deadline back to July 15, addressed open meetings laws by allowing meetings to take place using live audio or live video teleconferencing, and required the governor to declare in writing the date that the state of emergency ends.

In this fluid situation, there was little certainty on how to proceed with the budget. The more than $11 billion executive branch spending plan will remain mostly the same, at level-dollar funding based on the budget passed in 2018. That includes spending on the basic per-pupil allocation for Kentucky schools and support for safety measures. The state budget proposal, contained in House Bill 352, will also provide the actuarially-recommended level of funding for state public pension systems.

Although health crisis measures and the budget document became focal points, there was also legislation passed covering a wide array of policy — some on bipartisan terms, and others that drew quite a bit of criticism.

Additional bills passed by the General Assembly that will become law include legislation on the following topics:

Alcohol: House Bill 415 will allow distillers, wineries, and breweries to be licensed to ship directly to consumers — in and out of Kentucky. The bill imposes shipping limits of 10 liters of distilled spirits, 10 cases of wine, and 10 cases of malt beverages per month. Packages of alcohol will have to be clearly labeled and be signed for by someone 21 or older. HB 415 will also prohibit shipping to dry territories, communities where alcohol sales are prohibited by local laws.

Elections: Senate Bill 2, known as the “voter photo ID bill,” will require voters to present photographic identification at the polls, beginning with the general election in November. If a voter does not have a photo ID, he or she will be able to show another form of ID and affirm, under the penalty of perjury, that they are qualified to vote. The bill also allows poll workers to vouch for a voter they know, even if that person has no valid ID. Another provision of SB 2 will provide a free state-issued ID card for individuals who are at least 18 and do not have a valid driver’s license. It currently costs $30 for that ID.

Lieutenant Governor: House Bill 336 will let gubernatorial candidates select their running mate for lieutenant governor before the second Tuesday in August instead of during the spring primary campaign.

Marsy’s Law: Senate Bill 15 would enshrine certain rights for crime victims in the state constitution. Those would include the right to be notified of all court proceedings, reasonable protection from the accused, timely notice of a release or escape, and the right to full restitution. A similar proposed constitutional amendment passed in 2018, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that it invalid due to vague language. Voters will again have a chance to approve or disapprove the measure this November.

Mental Health: House Bill 153 will establish the Kentucky Mental Health First Aid Training Program. The plan would be aimed at training educating professionals and members of the public to identify and assist people with mental health or substance abuse problems. The program would also promote access to trainers certified in mental health first aid training.

Pensions: House Bill 484 separates the administration of the County Employees Retirement System (CERS) from the Kentucky Retirement Systems’ board of trustees.

School Safety: Senate Bill 8 will require school resource officers (SROs) to be armed with a gun. The measure also clarifies various other provisions of the School Safety and Resiliency Act concerning SROs and mental health professionals in schools.

Sex Offenders: House Bill 204 will prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a publicly leased playground. Sex offenders must already follow these standards for publicly owned parks.

Taxes: Senate Bill 5 will require library boards, and other so-called special-purpose governmental entities, to get approval from a county fiscal court or city council before increasing taxes.

Terms of Constitutional Offices: House Bill 405 proposes a constitutional amendment that would increase the term of office for commonwealth’s attorneys from six years to eight years beginning in 2030 and would increase the term of office for district judges from four years to eight years beginning in 2022. It would also increase the experience required to be a district judge from two years to eight years. The proposed constitutional amendment will be decided on by voters this November.

The unanticipated and sudden outbreak of a global pandemic thwarted legislative business as usual in Frankfort. It has been unlike anything we have ever witnessed. Most new laws — legislation that doesn’t contain emergency clauses or special effective dates — go into effect mid-July. The fate of the proposed constitutional amendments will be put to the ballot for voters to decide on in November.

Unless a special session is called by Governor Andy Beshear, the legislature will not convene again until January 2021.

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