March 12, 2021
SENATOR PHILLIP WHEELER’S LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
Only four legislative days remain of the 2021 30-Day Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. With the end in sight, fellow lawmakers and I are wrapping up legislative efforts by passing meaningful legislation in the closing days.
The General Assembly needs to pass most bills by Tuesday, March 16, so that enough time is left to consider any veto overrides that may be necessary. The legislature will recess on Tuesday, March 16 and will reconvene on Monday, March 29. During the recess period, the Governor will have time to consider bills that have arrived on his desk. He may sign them into law, allow them to become law without his signature, or veto them. Two days of the session will remain upon lawmakers’ return at the end of the month, as we are required to conclude the session before April 1 per the Constitution of Kentucky. Those two days will provide the legislature time to pass additional legislation and override potential vetoes.
The most recent vetoes issued by the Governor were on Senate Bill (SB) 3 and House Bill (HB) 6. The House and Senate overrode those vetoes last Thursday. They become enacted law upon their filing with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Bills clearing the House and Senate this week and that are now with the Governor for consideration can be found by visiting legislature.ky.gov.
Significant steps were taken regarding the one-year State Budget this past week. Last year was the first year in our state’s history that a one-year budget was passed. We are required to do so again this year. Biennial budgets, or two-year budgets, are traditionally enacted in even-numbered years, the 60-day regular sessions of the General Assembly. As the budget was being crafted last year amid the onset of the pandemic, legislators did not know what the economic outlook, and therefore, what state revenues would be. Out of an abundance of caution, it was determined to pass only a one-year budget, then return to the 30-day session this year to pass another. This year’s budget will essentially be a continuing budget and will look similar to last year’s budget.
The budget conference committee met to publicly review and discuss decisions regarding the budget proposals of the Governor, House, and Senate. The committee consists of House and Senate Majority and Minority Leadership and Appropriation and Revenue Committee Chairmen of both chambers. The Governor’s State Budget Director, John Hicks, visited with the budget conference committee. He provided some insight into “The American Rescue Plan Act,” which Congress recently passed.
It appears that $5 billion in various forms of aid will be provided to individuals here in Kentucky. The state government will receive approximately $2.4 billion and local governments $1.6 billion, respectively. While this is a significant investment for our state, we must remember these are one-time dollars. Once utilized, they are gone. The General Assembly will take a responsible and conservative approach to using state revenues as we continue to work through a time of uncertainty. You can find the archived video of budget conference committee meetings by visiting ket.org/legislature/archives.
I know many still suffer from the impact COVID-19 has had on our physical and emotional health and our economy. A recent report from the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet shows that our state unemployment rate more than doubled to 6.6 percent during the pandemic and economic shutdowns. According to the Director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the report’s numbers likely do not reflect the true magnitude of the impact the last year has had on the jobless rate and unemployment. Between March and April of last year, unemployment spiked to almost 17 percent. We are still feeling the effects of the influx of claims as the Labor Cabinet continues to struggle to process them.
Constituents are still sharing frustrations with legislators, indicating that they cannot connect with anyone at the Labor Cabinet to assist with their claims. Unfortunately, the unemployment claim process is solely an executive branch function. The bottom line is that members of the legislative branch, including staff, do not have access to the unemployment system to process a claim or even view its status. Ultimately, authorized staff within the Kentucky Labor Cabinet will have to get through the backlog of claims that still exists. The legislature has done all it can to assist, such as recently passing SB 7, which gives the Secretary of the Labor Cabinet authority to forgive requirements that people pay back benefits mistakenly given to them, but that they did not qualify for. Additionally, last year, the legislature offered the assistance of 100 LRC volunteers to help with unemployment claims, but that offer was declined. I encourage you to keep in good spirits. I am hopeful that with a decline in COVID-19 cases, regional unemployment offices will reopen soon for in-person appointments. Please take a moment to visit the Kentucky Career Center website at kcc.ky.gov to view phone appointment availability. Appointments may be scheduled at telegov.egov.com/LC_UI.
If you are among those who qualify for the most recent stimulus checks, you can check the status of yours by visiting irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment and clicking on the blue “Get My Payment” tab in the middle of the page. It is essential that you know the IRS will use the most recent tax returns to determine who is eligible for the new stimulus, so if you have been unemployed, had a child, or lost income in 2020, you should file your taxes as soon as possible. Based on early information, it appears that citizens who have a banking account on file with the IRS will receive their payments first. Due to an IRS error, some stimulus payments from earlier this year were first sent to people’s tax prep companies they used to file their taxes. This caused a lot of confusion, and the tax prep companies such as H&R Block and TurboTax had to process millions of checks. Hopefully, this will not occur again, but as you watch for your payment, please keep this in mind.
I continue to keep those impacted by recent weather events in my prayers. It has been inspiring to see communities and the whole state come together to support those in need. Please remain patient as assessments of damage are done by the state to determine our unmet needs. Once preliminary damage assessments are conducted by federal, state, and local officials, the Governor can submit a declaration request to the regional FEMA administrator, where the president can decide whether or not to grant it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 visit:https://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