House sends top five priority bills to the Senate in first week of 2021 session

On Thursday, the full House passed the top five priority bills of the majority caucus.

House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Bart Rowland, titled “AN ACT relating to Reopening the Economy in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in Response to the Governor’s State of Emergency,” has five sections addressing several issues.

The bill has five sections that would: allow businesses to continue operating and stay open as long as they have a comprehensive operating plan to ensure safety, waive penalties and interest on unemployment insurance tax bills to give businesses flexibility to pay increased rates, reverses the executive order dealing with the parental visitation of biological parents of Kentucky foster children, and allowing visitations at long-term care facilities.

The top priority legislation passed on the floor with two amendments. House Floor Amendment 1 deletes the requirement for businesses to submit their operating plans to local health departments, allows businesses to implement plans crafted by local and state government agencies, such as the Healthy at Work guidelines, and clarifies visitation at long-term care facilities and adds “non-family” to its list of permitted visitors.

House Floor Amendment 3 removes language dealing with religious institutions, as House members determined the bill could actually restrict the way those institutions operate, since federal judges have already ruled on the issue of whether or not they can remain open.

House Bill 1 passed with a 70-23 vote.

House Bill 2, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Fischer, would transfer some powers dealing with abortion laws to the Kentucky Attorney General from the governor. It passed through the House with a 75-18 vote.

House Bill 3, sponsored by Rep. Ed Massey, would change the way civil actions against the Commonwealth are heard, by creating three new districts based on population and geography statewide and allow cases to originate in the area of original jurisdiction. Current law requires that all civil actions involving the Commonwealth of Kentucky be assigned to the Franklin Circuit Court. This bill passed through the House with a 69-24 vote.

House Bill 4, sponsored by House Speaker David Osborne, is a constitutional amendment that would give the legislature more control over their own schedule of when they are in session, as long as 60 percent of the legislature agrees, and increases flexibility by adding days to a session. This is accomplished by making changes to sections 36 and 42 of the constitution.

In the bill’s committee hearing, Osborne noted he has brought the bill before the General Assembly before, but stated it is now more important than ever, pointing to the issues that arose in the 2020 session with COVID-19. He said the issues could have been dealt with more effectively if the legislature had the opportunity to pause proceedings until they had a better understanding of the virus and its impact on the state before reconvening to pass legislation.

Rep. Jason Nemes of Louisville spoke in favor of the bill, stating its passage could give more people a chance to run for office, as legislators in Kentucky are part-time.

“Many potential candidates who want to run are owners or employees of businesses and cannot afford to take three straight months off of work,” Nemes said. “If the calendar were more spread out, it would open up the opportunity for more individuals to become part of the General Assembly.”

The bill passed through the full House 77-16 after passing the Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee Wednesday 12-3 with a committee substitute. The committee substitute corrected an issue to ensure an effective date of legislation would be no sooner than 90 days from its passage unless it has an emergency clause.

Should the Senate pass House Bill 4, it would then be placed on the November 2022 ballot for voters to decide its final fate.

House Bill 5, dealing with reorganization of boards and commissions by the executive branch, passed through the House 73-22 Thursday after being approved by the House State Government Committee Wednesday.

Rep. Michael Meredith, sponsor of the bill, said the state has seen more than 450 reorganizations of boards and commissions under the last five governors, and many of those instances have been used as a way to further political agendas. He stated the bill would ensure the separation of powers between the branches of government by striking and repealing language in statute dealing with temporary reorganization powers and giving the legislature more oversight with these actions.

Meredith said the governor’s authority over this type of reorganization comes from a time when the General Assembly was not in annual sessions, which necessitated executive branch authority over the issue. That concept is now a “relic of the past,” he said.

The Senate will receive the bills Thursday afternoon and is expected to give each bill its first reading and committee assignment. The five priority house bills are expected to receive committee hearings on Friday.

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