From infrastructure investment to pensions to general logistics, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne covered a lot of ground in discussing policy goals ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session of the Kentucky General Assembly at the Kentucky Chamber’s Legislative Preview Conference Wednesday.
The leaders began the discussion addressing the logistical challenges ahead as they look to accommodate legislators, staff and guests in the upcoming session amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and also mentioned a potential bill or bills to address the balance of power when it comes to the governor’s ability to enact emergency executive orders.
“The governor needs to be able to react in emergency situations, but this pandemic is something we’ve never had to address,” said Speaker Osborne. “Whatever we pass will likely be with hopes to bring more stakeholders to the table in making these sweeping decisions that impact so many people.”
Stivers added he thinks the Legislature should be able to call itself into special session when emergencies like COVID-19 occur.
The leaders also said the need to pass a one-year state budget during a pandemic would limit the legislature’s ability to address a wide range of issues in 2021.
“We need to be measured and conservative in our approach to this budget, and there is the potential for reallocating of dollars and rebalancing as we move forward, but I’m cautiously optimistic for the direction we’re going,” Osborne said. “We will continue to prioritize education while creating a climate for businesses to recover from the pandemic and thrive in the future.”
Stivers and Osborne mentioned the growing costs to businesses due to the amount of unemployment insurance claims.
“Stabilization of our unemployment insurance trust fund is imperative for future allocations,” Stivers said. “There have been so many burdens placed on the back of businesses during this pandemic, and we cannot allow unemployment insurance to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Business owners that have made the argument that they have been shut down by the government, and now, they are expected to pay their way out of this hole. If there is another allocation from the federal government, President Stivers said we must use it to shore up our unemployment insurance.
The leaders also discussed the need for liability protections for businesses, most of which who have complied with added regulations and endured at least partial shutdowns and/or layoffs over the course of the pandemic.
“If you’re an employer and you’ve been doing everything that the experts have been telling you to do in order to keep your employees and customers safe, your exposure should be limited when it comes to lawsuits,” Osborne said.
Stivers said if businesses have shifted their operations at the request of the government to help manufacture PPE, then they should receive that immunity. He said House and Senate members and staff had a meeting on liability protections today.
Both leaders also expressed the need for added investment in infrastructure, also eluding to the need for long-term solutions, as studies show Americans will be far less reliant on traditional gas for transportation in the near future.
“We have to be forward-thinking in our approach to infrastructure funding and ensure that whatever action we take is sustainable for the future,” Stivers said. “But it’s clear that economic investment is happening most in areas near major interstate corridors, so funding must be a priority.”
On the topic of pension reform, both leaders credited Representative Thomas Massie for his work bringing stakeholders together to find solutions that will lighten the pension burden on the state budget in the future.
The leaders also discussed the potential for a historical horse racing bill in response to a Supreme Court decision made earlier this year. “Horse racing is certainly one of our signature industries, and it has a huge impact on our economy,” Stivers said. “There has been a lot of discussion on this issue within our caucus.”
Finally, Stivers and Osborne said they hoped to see some sort of police and/or criminal justice reform bill in light of the Breonna Taylor tragedy that occurred in Louisville earlier this year. The two seemed optimistic that a bipartisan bill would pass to address the subject of no-knock warrants.