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Budget, Beshear Oversight Among Top Priorities For Western Kentucky Legislators In 2021 Session

Commonwealth of Kentucky

Members of the Kentucky General Assembly representing western Kentucky districts addressed McCracken County business leaders Monday at a public policy forum hosted by the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce. The legislators touted their priorities for the 2021 legislative session, and discussed how those priorities will benefit the region.

Senator Danny Carroll

Carroll represents the second senate district, which includes Ballard, Carlisle, Marshall and McCracken counties. Carroll said the 2021 session will mainly consist of work on a one-year budget as a follow-up to the spending plan approved earlier this year during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Kentucky’s appropriations process typically runs on a two-year cycle, but the uncertainty of revenue streams in the face of coronavirus-related business closures forced the general assembly to split the budget biennium into two separate sessions.

“This session is going to end up being a very focused session,” Carroll said.

Another priority outlined by Carroll is restriction of the emergency powers granted to Governor Andy Beshear. Beshear extensively used the emergency authority afforded to him by the state constitution as a method of controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the commonwealth. Carroll said the “state of emergency” laws were intended for short-term natural disasters, not health crises spanning months.

“It’s very clear that the statutes were never written to address pandemics.”

In the 2021 session, Carroll will relinquish his chairmanship of the Economic Development, Labor and Tourism Committee. Instead, he’ll serve on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee. The panel is responsible for crafting the state budget, and is widely considered one of the most powerful committees in Frankfort.

Representative Steven Rudy

Rudy’s district features the “river counties” of Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton, Hickman, with a portion of McCracken County. Rudy also serves as the state house’s majority floor leader. In this capacity, he is responsible for the flow of bills on the house floor and many of the procedural moves that take place during the chamber’s daily meetings. His leadership post brings a great deal of influence over the priorities of the legislature. Rudy said the 2021 session will be unusual, and one that will require a great deal of measured action in his new position.

“The story of the 2021 general assembly will be more about the process than the policy,” Rudy said.

With the budget taking up most of the session’s legislative bandwidth, Rudy said general assembly leaders will have to prioritize the legislation they will tackle in the 30-day session (per the state constitution, Kentucky holds 60-day legislative sessions in even-numbered years and 30-day sessions in odd-numbered years).

Rudy said Beshear’s use of emergency powers will be one of the areas the legislature will not ignore in the short session. He said representatives are even considering an amendment to the constitution to allow the legislature to call itself into a special session (constitutional amendments must be approved by voters in addition to legislative approval). Currently, only the governor may bring the general assembly back to Frankfort outside of the constitutionally-obligated sessions beginning in January. Special sessions must have a clearly-defined purpose and legislators are not allowed to consider bills outside the purview of the governor’s reason for calling the session.

A major logistical challenge in the 2021 session will be coronavirus restrictions in the state capitol building. The 100 house members and 38 senate members typically meet daily in their respective chambers, potentially violating the recommended six-foot social distance and state restrictions on mass gatherings. Rudy said access to the Capitol will be limited, and leaders are working on the mechanics of allowing representatives and senators to vote from their offices.

Representative Randy Bridges

Paducah and portions of McCracken County fall into the third house district, represented by Bridges since 2019. Bridges identified infrastructure projects as a top priority for 2021. He said infrastructure is an area with broad bipartisan support, and Beshear has indicated support for key projects in the region.

Bridges also said the general assembly should advance legislation to assist in helping businesses recover from the economic devastation caused by COVID-19. He said Beshear’s restrictions were damaging to Kentucky’s business community, and vowed to support legislative efforts to restrict executive overreach.

Representative Chris Freeland

Freeland represents Marshall, Lyon and part of McCracken counties in the state house’s sixth district. Aside from the budget and Beshear’s emergency powers, Freeland said he hopes to work on expanding broadband access in his rural district and throughout the commonwealth.

“Our areas that don't have it [broadband access] are held back when they dont have internet access,” Freeland said.

Freeland identified specific instances of students being forced to sit in parking lots near WiFi hotspots to complete their schoolwork as evidence of the growing need for stronger internet access.

Representative Richard Heath

Graves County and a portion of McCracken County are represented by Heath.  He concurred with his colleagues on the need for a new budget and restrictions on gubernatorial powers. However, through his role as chairman of the Agriculture Committee, he said a personal priority will be passage of pesticide modernization legislation.

Dalton York is a Morning Edition host and reporter for WKYU in Bowling Green. He is a graduate of Murray State University, where he majored in History with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership Studies. While attending Murray State, he worked as a student reporter at WKMS. A native of Marshall County, he is a proud product of his tight-knit community.
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