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Alvarado provides update on second week of legislative session

Ever since I was elected to office in 2014, I have taken pride in staying engaged with the 28th District’s citizens. This has usually occurred by speaking face-to-face at various live events. However, since COVID-19, I find myself feeling strangely removed from interaction with everyone in our community. Writing these updates provides me a welcomed means of reconnecting with everyone 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 seven bills to the governor’s desk. I am happy to say that we are moving forward in deliberation, but with purpose.

The past 10 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 government action that is negatively impacting students, businesses, and citizen’s mental health. The passage of priority House and Senate bills indicates the legislature’s commitment to being a co-equal branch of government and ensuring that the representative branch of state government has a seat at the table where life-altering decisions are made.

I was pleased to speak in support of key Senate priority legislation that passed. Senate bills 1, 2, and 9—which I outlined in last week’s legislative update—have each received passage in both the House and Senate and are on the governor’s desk. Similarly, priority legislation from the House has passed both chambers as well.

I was honored to carry House Bill (HB) 1 in the Senate chamber. In my remarks, I outlined the hardships that have been felt by Kentucky small businesses and how, despite the wrenches that were thrown at them, they stepped up to do their part and stop the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, some closed entirely. Others curtailed operations. As a result of this, Kentucky set records for the number of people applying for unemployment benefits. Tens of thousands have yet to receive a single check, and the UI trust fund has dwindled to zero. The payments being made now are from a federal government loan. Similar and perhaps even more detrimental harm has been done to Kentucky students as schools have shuttered. In these two areas, maybe more than others, are the unintended consequences and ramifications of unilateral executive actions apparent. HB 1 provides clarity and order amid a state of emergency for businesses, schools, parents, teachers, students, and religious institutions. It provides assurances that they may remain open and operational if they follow a comprehensive operating plan that details how the business, school, or church will safely adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines—or state guidelines—whichever is least restrictive.

Two pro-life bills are in the Governor’s care for consideration. He is expected to veto these bills. They are:

Senate Bill (SB) 9, the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, which the legislature passed last year before the Governor vetoed it, has been sent to him again. Unfortunately, last year’s veto came after the legislative veto override period, and lawmakers could not override it. The bill ensures that a baby born alive in any circumstance receives lifesaving 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 secretary requests that he or she intervene.

I and other General Assembly members, who value the sanctity of human life, are eager to override any vetoes the Governor chooses to issue. Last week, Kentucky Right to Life held a pro-life rally alongside lawmakers and the Attorney General restating commitment to defending pro-life legislation in the court system.

Additional bills that made full passage this past week include 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 Court and before a limited number of potential judges, essentially creating a “super circuit.”

HB 5 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 and board reorganizations to require a vote of the General Assembly and refine gubernatorial authority when the legislature is not in session.

For those who may not know, I am honored to serve as Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare. We have held two meetings to date. This past Wednesday, several bills were heard and received passage. They include SB 61, which aims to improve direct care staff training who oversee patients with dementia. SB 38 requires hospitals to have an evacuation plan in place for any procedure that may create surgical smoke to ensure that nurses, personnel, and patients are protected. Finally, I am the primary sponsor of SB 21. The bill would put in place safety measures for mental health patients’ transport by allowing originating hospitals to voluntarily transport these patients to a different hospital or facility upon staff authorization of a patient’s written agreement. The bill will prevent an adult or child patient who has agreed to be voluntarily transported from being released during the transport to the receiving facility. I hope to see this bill pass this year. SB 21 also protects access to mental health services for our homeless youth in Kentucky. This bill passed the committee, as well.

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, Feb. 2. Before adjourning, the House and Senate each put forth their respective budget proposals. The next process is for appointed member from the two chambers to come together in a conference committee to finalize a budget agreement that will be voted on to send to the governor. 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 them at legislature.ky.gov.

Keep in mind that Jan. 18 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I will miss participating at the annual events in Clark and Montgomery counties, where we celebrate his life and ideals. I encourage you to pause and reflect on his incredible memory. He still has so much to teach us, especially during difficult times like these.

Please feel free to call me about these issues or any other public policy issue toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at ralph.alvarado@LRC.ky.gov.

Reminder: I will soon participate in my annual local town hall events to answer questions and inform constituents about legislative efforts. I invite you to join me in participating in these forums. A legislative update will be held via Facebook Live on January 19 at noon on the Winchester BCTC Facebook page: facebook.com/BCTCWinchester. On Thursday, January 21, at 8:30 a.m. I will be in Mt. Sterling at Silver Creek Restaurant for a town hall. The address is 350 Silver Lake Drive. I would encourage everyone who participates to follow CDC guidelines. Please watch out for updates from me on social media and weekly legislative updates in this newspaper for any changes or additional information about these town halls. Stay safe. God bless.

Senator Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) represents the 28th State Senate District including Clark and Montgomery counties and the eastern portion of Fayette County. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare. He is also a member of the Senate Standing Committees on State and Local Government, Banking and Insurance, and Budget Review Subcommittee on Human Resources. Additionally, he serves as a member of the Medicaid Oversight and Advisory Statutory Committee.