UPDATE: Federal legislation raising the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 went into effect Friday, December 27.
Though divisive issues took center stage for Congress this session, major pieces of legislation were passed before the end of the year. Below are the monumental issues addressed by Congress benefiting Kentucky and the nation as a whole.
Funding secured to help fight addiction in Kentucky
To help Kentucky address the opioid and substance abuse epidemic, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell secured landmark federal funding toward Kentucky’s prevention, treatment, and enforcement efforts. Click here to learn more about this major win for Kentucky’s opioid and substance abuse efforts.
“Kentucky unfortunately remains at the center of the opioid and substance abuse epidemic, and I continue to mobilize the federal government as Senate Majority Leader to fight back,” said Senator McConnell. “Through comprehensive legislation and unprecedented levels of federal funding, I’ve delivered critical assistance to Kentucky’s local leaders for prevention, treatment, and enforcement in their work to help save lives. This summer brought good news with the first decrease in Kentucky overdose deaths in over a decade, but there is of course much more work to do to protect our communities from the scourge of addiction. I’m proud to continue working with local, state and federal partners to keep these dangerous substances away from Kentucky families.”
In response to the funding, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ashli Watts said in the following statement:
“The opioid epidemic is not just a public health issue; it is also a workforce issue, and the Kentucky business community has felt the impact of the crisis firsthand,” said Watts. “Leader McConnell listened to our concerns and has led a thoughtful solution to help address the crisis with the CAREER Act. Connection to a stable living environment and gaining purpose found through work is critical to the long-term recovery process. This new funding will help states like Kentucky ensure people stay in recovery and get back into the workforce, which is something employers desperately want.”
Repeal of Health Insurance Tax and Cadillac Tax
Congress voted to fully repeal Health Insurance Tax (HIT) and the “Cadillac” (excise) Tax, which will take effect January 1, 2021. It is projected that the HIT repeal will save $150 billion and the Cadillac Tax will save $197 billion. The Kentucky Chamber has advocated for many years to the repeal the Health Insurance Tax because of its negative impact on businesses, employees, and the economy.
Tobacco purchase age raised to 21
A bill was also passed to raise the legal purchase age of tobacco from 18 to 21, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. This bill, advocated by the Kentucky Chamber, is part of an effort to curb tobacco use in the youth, as well as adult, population. Kentucky ties for the highest rate of death from smoking-related illnesses in the nation.
A bill at the state level has been pre-filed by Senator Ralph Alvarado, a physician from Winchester, ahead of the 2020 session. The legislation is needed to ensure Kentucky complies with the new federal law.
Agreement reached on USMCA
In a bipartisan victory, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade, which would replace the 1993 North America Federal Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The federal legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate, where it is also expected to pass with bipartisan support in 2020.
The USMCA is expected to be beneficial to small business, manufacturing, services, and agricultural enterprises. It aims to further strengthen commercial ties with Mexico and Canada—the U.S.’s top two export markets—and guarantee that nearly all U.S. exports enter these markets tariff-free. The Kentucky Chamber recently sent a letter urging passage of USMCA to its federal delegation.