Legislative leaders tout bipartisan budget process and pledge to work together to address COVID-19 in coming months

After wrapping up an unprecedented legislative session amid a global pandemic earlier in the week, Senate President Robert Stivers, House Speaker David Osborne, Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, and House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins spoke to Kentucky Chamber members about the final results of the 2020 session and what comes next on COVID-19 from the state level.

All four of the leaders pointed to the budget as the main success of the 2020 session and noted the difficulty of having to cut back on spending significantly because of anticipated lost revenues in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. They noted that while they would have liked to allocate more dollars to things like education, raises for state employees, and other areas they were proud of the bipartisan way the legislature came together to craft a responsible budget under very difficult circumstances.

As for things that were left on the table because of a shortened session and new protocols to ensure safety at the Capitol, McGarvey pointed to sports wagering and medical marijuana bills as issues he would have liked to see cross the finish line.

When asked how the state moves forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Speaker Osborne said it will be difficult to put a timeline on when things will get back to normal but Kentucky likely needs to start talking in terms of what is safe vs what is not safe rather than essential and non-essential.

Jenkins said she didn’t expect this pandemic to take such a personal turn for her as she had to take her father to the ER last week and drop him off at the door as hospitals aren’t allowing visitors. She suggested it may be a good idea to start thinking about designating some hospitals as COVID-19 treatment facilities and allowing others to operate normally as many are experiencing low occupancy and facing other struggles because elective procedures are put on hold.

Stivers agreed with Jenkins about the hospitals, adding many health care systems have had to lay off workers because they are not operating normally and there are few COVID-19 patients hospitalized. He also pointed to a bill passed by the House on the last day of session to start the discussion about re-opening the economy and said it is time for groups and businesses to come to the table to bring forward recommendations.

Getting back to some kind of new normal, McGarvey said, is a critical part of the puzzle that must come next. McGarvey said the governor has been doing a great job working to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus and added everyone wants the same thing next—for people to be safe and businesses back to operating.

In terms of what the pandemic may mean for this year’s elections, the leaders discussed added flexibility that was granted to the governor and secretary of state to change the manner in which people vote if necessary, social distancing measures that could work for voting, and more. Jenkins said from talking to candidates, campaigning is difficult in the time of social distancing and she expects to see some innovative approaches to the way people fundraise and get in touch with voters.

The top legislative leaders wrapped up the conversation with similar messages to employers and employees across the state to hang in there and a pledge to work together in any way they can to ensure the state has what it needs to be successful.

Watch the full discussion here:

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Jacqueline Pitts
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