COVID-19 legislative update
Hi everybody, It may have been more than 160 years ago that Charles Dickens wrote “A Tale of Two Cities,” but the novel’s well-known opening line – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” – seems especially relevant today, given what we have lived through this month. Here are some important websites and phone numbers you may need. To access the state’s public-assistance programs, please visit https://benefind.ky.gov or call 1-855-306-8959. For Medicaid, the customer-service line is 855-459-6328, and the website is https://healthbenefitexchange.ky.gov. For unemployment insurance, the website is http://www.kewes.ky.gov/, while the main number for claimants is 502-564-2900. Gov. Beshear has also announced more regional phone numbers. Be aware that, due to the sudden spike in unemployment payments, applications are being accepted this week on a staggered basis based on last name. Each day is focused on several letters through Friday, and if you miss your day, you can use Friday as well. This information and more can be found on a new website the administration has created as a single source listing every state order and action. That website is https://governor.ky.gov/covid19. It’s excellent and I urge you to sign up for automatic updates. We all know the challenges we’ve faced both here in Kentucky and around the world. At the same time, we have also seen countless examples of others reaching out to help, so to speak, even as we do what we can to stay apart. Our healthcare workers and first responders deserve considerable credit for what they have done to keep us well, while our teachers and school staffs are to be commended for making sure our children are still able to learn and have access to nutritional food while they are at home. Those running our grocery stores and restaurants have overcome their own challenges to continue serving us, and our small businesses and civic and charitable organizations have found ways to help many of us navigate situations our country hasn’t seen since the days of World War II and the Great Depression. I want to thank everyone who has gone above and beyond for our community – and I appreciate the willingness of so many to stay home and, when out, to practice social distancing and good hand washing to limit the spread of this illness. At the Capitol this past week, it also was the best of times and the worst of times. On the positive side, Gov. Andy Beshear and his administration have kept us informed and taken the tough but necessary steps needed to “flatten the curve” so that our healthcare system can weather the growing number of COVID-19 cases, which topped 100 cases Sunday night but will continue to rise, so please follow all the health guidelines. The state has also eased rules to accommodate those who have lost their jobs as a result of the various closures and now qualify for such programs as Medicaid and unemployment insurance. On Thursday, the House moved two significant bills forward that will build on this relief. Senate Bill 177 would give our schools the flexibility they need to finish the school year as they and their students cope with the prolonged absence, and Senate Bill 150 would do something similar in other areas so Gov. Beshear and health officials have more authority to do what is necessary to limit the spread of the coronavirus and help employees. Those were the high points of our legislative work last week, but there were regrettably some low points, too. Many of my legislative colleagues and I questioned whether we should even be at the Capitol at all. In Georgia, one legislator who tested positive for COVID-19 led to a call that every legislator there self-isolate. More than a dozen other state legislatures left their capitals altogether. Gov. Beshear promised to call the General Assembly back into special session in the weeks ahead to enact emergency measures and the state’s budget, but legislative leaders chose not to go that route. As a result, and with the Capitol complex closed to the general public, the House and Senate considered numerous bills that had no relevance to the crisis at hand, including one that dealt with the definition of hair stylist and another on how to dispose of deer meat. Several bills from this time would, if enacted, have a negative impact on hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians. One of the more significant is Senate Bill 2, which will add another hurdle by requiring a photo ID to vote. Current law already requires voters to show some form of ID, but this bill won’t even allow a valid out-of-state driver’s license to be used. Even though free IDs are part of this bill – a cost that alone could reach into the millions of dollars – this is still unnecessary when there has not been a single example in at least 20 years of in-person voter fraud. If we’re going to consider voting legislation during a crisis, it should be to extend hours at the polls and allow early, excuse-free voting. This week, legislative leaders will work on a compromise state budget that the House and Senate are scheduled to vote on late this week or early next. I’m hoping that some aspects of the Senate budget, which was approved this past week, do not survive. One proposal would potentially withhold more than $1 billion from the teachers’ retirement fund if unspecified changes are not made in the next two years to limit benefits for new teachers. TRS doesn’t need this, and certainly teachers have told me loud and clear they do not want this. Inexplicably, the Senate budget also scales back tens of millions of dollars our public health departments and quasi-governmental agencies desperately need to make their retirement contributions more manageable. At a time when the critical role teachers, public health departments, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and crucial mental health organizations play is more evident than ever, I cannot understand how any legislator, much less the majority of the Senate, could support these plans. Finally, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or concerns about these or other legislative issues. My email is email@example.com, and the toll-free message line for all legislators is 1-800-372-7181. Thanks for all you do and are doing, stay well and holler anytime.