January 14, 2021
SENATOR PHILLIP WHEELER’S LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
As State Senator, I enjoy staying engaged with the 31st District. Community engagement as an elected official usually occurs by speaking face-to-face during meetings or community events. However, since COVID-19, I find myself feeling removed from interaction with everyone. Writing these legislative updates provides me a welcomed means of reconnecting with you and others back home.
I can honestly say that the Kentucky General Assembly is making the most of the 30-day legislative session. In the first eight days back in Frankfort, lawmakers have already delivered six bills to the governor’s desk. I am happy to report that we are moving forward in deliberation but with purpose.
The past ten months have been challenging for all of us. Anxieties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have extended beyond solely the dangerous health risk the virus poses to the vulnerable, but to indirect consequences of mandates negatively affecting students, businesses, and mental health. The passage of priority House and Senate bills verifies the legislature’s commitment to being a co-equal branch of government and ensuring the representative branch of state government has a seat at the table as life-altering decisions are considered.
Senate Bill (SB) 1 – This bill better defines executive authority during a state of emergency. It brings the representative branch of government to the table to be a voice for the communities its members represent. The bill will require legislative authorization before the governor can extend an executive order beyond 30 days if the order places restrictions on various public and private entities. The same requirement would exist for emergency executive orders. Similarly, it would require mutual agreement between the Governor and the Attorney General to suspend state statute during a state of emergency. Taking a less arbitrary and more targeted approach to addressing a state of emergency, SB1 would allow local officials to request an extension of executive orders only for their area and only for the amount of time they ask.
SB 2 – For far too long, governors and their administrations have been able to blur the lines between executive and legislative branch authorities by making law through the use and abuse of the emergency regulatory process. SB 2 enhances this process’s legislative and public oversight by requiring an expedited public hearing and written comment period and allowing a legislative committee to review, amend, or find an emergency regulation deficient.
SB 3 – Appropriately places the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy under the office of the State Agriculture Commissioner. Each statewide office holds certain responsibilities delegated to it by the Constitution of Kentucky or state statute. It is only appropriate that this office falls under the office most relevant to state agriculture policy.
House Bill (HB) 1 – Provides clarity and reassurances amid a state of emergency for businesses, schools, parents, teachers, students, and religious institutions. Provides assurances that they may remain open and operational if they follow a comprehensive operating plan, which details how the business or school will adhere to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines or state guidelines—whichever is least restrictive— to ensure safety.
Other bills that have reached the governor’s desk include two pro-life measures.
SB 9, the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, which the legislature passed last year before the governor vetoed it, has been sent to the governor’s desk yet again. Unfortunately, last year’s veto came after the legislative veto override period, and lawmakers could not override it. The governor is expected to veto these pro-life bills, but the General Assembly stands ready to override any veto he makes. SB 9 bill ensures that a baby born-alive in any circumstance receives lifesaving medical care.
HB 2 gives Kentucky’s Attorney General the authority to seek an injunction and civil or criminal penalties for violations of statutes and administrative regulations guiding the practice of abortion. Current law only allows the Attorney General to take action if the Secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services requests that he or she intervene.
I and other members of the General Assembly, who value the sanctity of human life, are eager to override any veto’s the Governor chooses to issue. A pro-life rally alongside the Attorney General was held on the Capitol steps last Monday where commitment to defending these pro-life bills in the courts was restated.
Additional pieces of legislation that made full passage this past week was HB 3, which establishes that challenges to the constitutionality of state statutes, executive orders, administrative regulations, or cabinet orders shall be filed in the county of the plaintiff’s residence. Currently, all suits filed against the state go through the Franklin Circuit and before a couple judges. That essentially creates a “super circuit.” Under provisions of the bill, the Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court would randomly select one circuit judge from each of the three newly created districts to form a panel to hear the case.
HB 5 also passed both chambers. It would improve oversight of the reorganization of state boards. Governors have used these boards to fulfill political agendas and favors in the past. In fact, over the last five administrations, there have been over 445 reorganizations of state agencies, cabinets, or boards. The bill would require all executive branch reorganizations and board reorganizations to require a vote of the General Assembly and refine gubernatorial authority when the legislature is not in session.
The Constitution of Kentucky requires that the General Assembly adjourn following the first part of the session. Wednesday, January 13, was our final day before adjourning in compliance with that constitutional requirement. The legislature will reconvene for the second part of the session on Tuesday, February 2. Before adjourning, the House and Senate have each passed their respective budget bill. For the two chambers, the next process is to come together in a conference committee to finalize a continuing budget agreement and transportation budget to send to the governor for consideration. Budget bills include HB 192, the executive branch budget; HB 193, the transportation budget; HB 194, the legislative branch budget, and HB 195, the judicial branch budget. You can access each of these bills at legislature.ky.gov.
It is an honor to represent the 31st District in the Kentucky State Senate. Should you have any comments or concerns about these issues or any other public policy issue, please do not hesitate to contact my office. You can reach my office toll-free at 502-564-8100 Ext: 714 or by emailing me at email@example.com. God bless.
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Note: Senator Phillip Wheeler (R-Pikeville) represents Kentucky’s 31st State Senate District, which includes Elliott, Lawrence, Martin, Morgan, and Pike Counties. Senator Wheeler is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor. He also serves as a member of the Senate Standing Committees on Transportation, Natural Resources and Energy, Judiciary, and State and Local Government. Additionally, he is a member of the Capital Planning and Bond Oversight Statutory Committee. For a high-resolution .jpeg of Senator Wheeler, please visithttps://legislature.ky.gov/Legislators%20Full%20Res%20Images/senate131.jpg
Senator Phillip Wheeler
Kentucky State Senate, District 31
Commonwealth of Kentucky
Capitol Annex, Rm. 253 | 702 Capital Ave. | Frankfort, KY 40601 | 502-564-8100 ext. 59261