Being good stewards and guardians of your tax dollars means that we must pass laws that help Kentucky businesses grow and Kentuckians keep more of their hard-earned money. Our pro-business approach these past few years that we have held the majority in the House and the Senate has led to legislation that has helped get us to where we were before the pandemic. And that same approach to economic development will bring us back to where we need to be. Here are a few of those economic development measures we approved in 2020 that, as of July 15, are now law here in the Commonwealth:
HB 362 — Broadband is essential infrastructure in our digital economy. It is every bit as essential as roads and bridges are to our economic development efforts. We must take a targeted approach to accelerate access to broadband in our state’s most underserved areas, and this bill combines public and private investment to accomplish that goal. It provides funding for construction, development, or improvement of broadband infrastructure, services, or related technologies in underserved or unserved areas of Kentucky. This legislation helps to bring broadband internet to counties that depend on reliable, fast internet for economic development and job growth, yet currently have little to no access.
HB 186 — This bill cleans up language for the Department of Workplace Standards in the Labor Cabinet to clarify that direct sellers — those who sell everything from Avon to Pampered Chef to Norwex — are not employees. This bill eliminates any extra hoops that direct sellers, many of whom are doing these jobs as extra income for their families, might have to go through.
HB 374 — This measure helps to preserve the rights of Kentucky’s hard-working citizens by removing collective bargaining break waivers and preserving agreements made between employers and employees who are represented by a union. It will mandate collective bargaining agreements to be exempt from Kentucky statute as long as the employee receives 10 six-minute rest periods for every four hours worked and eliminates any violation of current Kentucky law, which requires a 10-minute break every four hours.
HB 415 — This legislation is already receiving national attention as a model for innovation and will benefit our bourbon industry, as well as the micro-breweries, wineries and other producers. It allows alcoholic beverage producers to send products directly to Kentucky consumers. The measure allows licensed producers, both in and out-of-state, to ship directly to Kentuckians and consumers in those other states that permit it. For example, Kentuckians would now be able to receive alcohol from out of state wineries. It will now be easier to make legal purchases, but we included provisions to protect the public. Products can only be shipped to “wet” areas where alcohol is legally allowed. Shipments would require a signature by someone over the age of 21 and must be shipped using a common carrier such as UPS.
SB 263 — This new law passed in the 2020 Regular Session creates the framework for a refunding process for employers who pay into the coal workers’ pneumoconiosis fund once the fund is audited and closed. The Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Funding Commission and the Kentucky Employers’ Mutual Insurance Authority make the determination that final audits are complete, and the liabilities of the coal workers’ pneumoconiosis fund are fully funded prior to the refund of any excess assessments to employers. SB 263 also requires employers to seek a refund to certify if they are in bankruptcy. The refund can only be used to pay workers who have unpaid wages. An employer will not receive a refund if it has an outstanding tax balance or has other unpaid public obligations.
Before I end this update, I wanted to share with you about a letter I signed onto with my colleagues in the House of Representatives last week. During the Government Contract Review committee, they discussed the Governor’s judgement to not honor the decision of the Fish and Wildlife Commission by offering Fish and Wildlife Resources Commissioner Rich Storm a two-year contract renewal. The Commission has the legal authority to choose the Commissioner and Storm has done an extraordinary job leading the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, an agency that does not receive any general fund dollars from the General Assembly. Under his leadership, the fund has more than doubled from $9 million to more than $28 million and great strides have been taken to make it more accountable to the hunters, fishermen, and boaters who fund it. The letter that over 30 members from the Kentucky House of Representatives signed onto, asked the Governor to reconsider his decision on Commissioner Storm. I look forward to hearing from him on this decision.
I hope to continue providing you updates through this column. It’s important to me that I am able to promote transparency and continue to be a good guardian of your tax dollars. As always, I can still be reached through the toll-free message line; if you have any comments or questions, just call 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Samara.Heavrin@lrc.ky.gov. You can also keep track of the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov.