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TURNER’S UPDATE: ‘We can now see the light at the end of the tunnel’

By Johnnie L. Turner

It was a privilege to serve you and our district during the 2021 Regular Session. At this same time last year, no one could have predicted just how drastically our lives would change amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As the 30-day session closed on March 30, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Going into this year’s legislative session, we knew we had a pressing responsibility to address the budget and issues related to the pandemic. Constitutionally, we were required to pass a continuing budget following last year’s decision to pass only a one-year budget instead of the traditional two-year budget. Through cautious and conservative planning, along with federal stimulus funds, I am happy to say the General Assembly invested taxpayer dollars in Kentucky to ensure we get the most out of every penny.

This year’s budget invests $300 million in federal funding to expand broadband access to areas of the state most in need and advance economic development. While reliable internet connectivity is essential to our state’s financial future, so is improving our state’s infrastructure. To improve that, we must include access to quality water and wastewater systems for Kentuckians. The General Assembly allocated $200 million for county water and sewer projects and grants. Billions of dollars have been placed into highway appropriations, with nearly $700 million for revenue sharing to help county and rural and secondary roads.

Additional budget appropriations show the General Assembly’s commitment to building a better Kentucky. Over 40% of the state’s approximate $12 billion budget is dedicated to education. That number is well over 50% when including higher education spending. Additionally, our Family Resource and Youth Services Centers program’s funding was maintained in this year’s budget, with $20 million being appropriated to help our rural hospitals. Finally, the General Assembly met our moral and legal obligation to fund state employees’ pensions fully.

Looming over every legislative decision was COVID-19 and its various impacts on our economy, health, education, and more. Knowing how important it is to get our state back on track, the General Assembly passed legislation to allow companies to operate within safety guidelines that are less restrictive so that they can get their employees back to work. For parents fortunate enough to remain employed but have found child care options limited following state-mandated shutdowns, the legislature passed a bill to reopen our child care centers. For those still struggling with unemployment-related issues, we enacted legislation to require the state to reopen regional offices for in-person services. The budget also included $575 million to pay down the state’s $800 million federal loan to refund the unemployment trust fund. Doing this will make sure small businesses do not see a significant tax increase.

In response to the multitudes of calls from the unemployed, parents in need of child care, those concerned with their children’s education, and families unable to visit with their loved ones in long-term care facilities, the General Assembly began to review what its role should be when these life-altering decisions are made. We passed priority measures reforming statute to give the General Assembly oversight over the extension of states of emergencies, administrative and emergency regulations, and allow the voters of Kentucky to decide if the legislature may reserve legislative days to return to Frankfort beyond the current constitutionally required session deadlines.

Legislation that garnered overwhelming support included bills to protect our children by strengthening the statute of limitations on abuse-related crimes and enhancing penalties for those found guilty. We addressed health care costs by capping the out-of-pocket cost of insulin for people with diabetes at $30 per 30-day supply. We continued to improve criminal justice by ensuring accountability within law enforcement, providing pregnant inmates with the dignity of time with their child, and lessening recidivism by helping connect former inmates with job opportunities.

We continued to show our commitment to protecting the life of the unborn in passing the “born-alive infant protection act,” which provides that an infant born alive must be given the appropriate medical treatment and care to preserve life. We also sought to improve government transparency and efficiency by providing the State Treasurer oversight of state contracts and improving Kentucky’s agriculture industry by rightly placing related offices and boards under the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner’s jurisdiction.

With approximately 200 bills passed by the General Assembly, the governor signed into law 158 of them (79%) and allowed 12 others to become law without vetoing them (85% total). Within these three months, there was a significant amount of great work done to build a brighter future for Kentucky.

Information on legislation passed during the 2021 Regular Session can be found at www.legislature.ky.gov.

If you have any questions about any of these public policy issues, please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have. You can reach my office toll-free by calling 502-564-8100 or by emailing me at johnnie.turner@lrc.ky.gov. God bless.

Senator Turner (R- Harlan) represents the 29th District, which encompasses Floyd, Harlan, Knott, and Letcher Counties. Senator Turner is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. He also serves as a member of the Senate Standing Committees on Transportation, and Judiciary.

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