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Teachers, coal counties lose big



 

Meeting late into the evening for its two final days, the General Assembly wrapped up this year’s legislative session last week by voting on more than 30 different bills.

It was a symbolic way to end a session that should have adjourned last month because of the coronavirus or, at least, focused just on budgetary and emergency measures. We cannot ask businesses to close their doors and for Kentuckians to stay at home if we’re not going to follow the same rules ourselves.

Although the 60-day session was shortened somewhat by the virus, it still largely followed the same calendar. That meant the primary focus of these last two days was deciding whether to override Governor Andy Beshear’s vetoes.

During debate on the House floor, I argued that the ones he issued for the budget were light by historical standards, especially when considering that the last governor vetoed the entire budget two years ago.

Governor Beshear argued that he needed maximum flexibility as we continue to deal with the coronavirus’ impact on our collective health and economy.

Unfortunately, many of my legislative colleagues did not agree, so most of the vetoed language was restored into law. Among other things, that means our coal counties will get about $1 million less from the coal severance tax and that teachers could see their retirement system receive less money if state revenues drop significantly. I don’t think it’s fair that these two groups bear this additional burden.

The General Assembly also rejected the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 2, which will require voters to show a photo ID, starting in November. As Governor Beshear pointed out, there are several issues that make this tough to enact.

First, in-person voting fraud just does not occur. Most of us already show a photo ID to vote, and others are able to verify their identity through a utility bill or credit card.

Second, we don’t know how much longer state offices will be closed, which means getting an ID in the months ahead could be a lot more difficult. Courts in other states have also struck down these laws when they were passed in an election year, because they appear to be designed to limit voting, not promote it. The law’s free ID cards, meanwhile, will cost the state millions of tax dollars at a time when we need every cent for basic services more than ever.

As for the new bills sent to Governor Beshear last week, it will be up to him to decide which ones – except for two – become law, because the legislature cannot return to override any vetoes he may issue.

Those two exceptions are constitutional amendments that voters will decide in November. One called Marsy’s Law would give victims more input in their cases, while the second would extend future terms for district judges and commonwealth’s attorneys to eight years.

Among the new bills, there is legislation to give employers more tools to help those working for them who are addicted to drugs and are trying to turn their lives around. This is a voluntary program, but hopefully will become widely used.

Another new bill poised to become law will give rural hospitals access to economic development loans that could be the difference in staying open or closing. This is modeled after another new law that helped the University of Louisville with its purchase of Jewish Hospital.

There are a couple of other bills affecting our criminal justice system. One would have our law enforcement agencies detail their policies when it comes to high-speed chases. This is named in honor of a young woman who was killed last fall by someone attempting to escape the police.

The second will give state officials more authority to move those in severely overcrowded jails to another location. This has become a critical issue, especially when these settings have proven to be extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus.

With that virus in mind, I’m proud that Governor Beshear and his administration made drive-thru testing available for three days this week in Pike County. With most counties in eastern Kentucky now reporting at least one case, testing is absolutely critical when it comes to keeping our overall numbers down. I’m confident we’ll see more testing opportunities in the weeks ahead.

You can email me at Angie.Hatton@lrc.ky.gov, or you can leave a message for me or any other legislator at 1-800-372-7181.

I hope to hear from you soon.

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