Before I share about the discussions and work that our legislative committees completed last week, I want to quickly talk about the upcoming election next week. As many of you know, civic engagement is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. This election is so important. It’s important that you get out and vote if you have not yet. Elections are the way that we can personally decide how our country, our state, and our local communities should be led.
Our process may have adjusted to accommodate for a worldwide pandemic, but we are still able to vote and make sure that our voices are heard. I encourage you and remind you, in these last few days of the 2020 general election, to make your voice heard.
Interim Joint Committee on Banking and Insurance: The committee met and heard testimony on how Kentucky banks and credit unions are handling the pandemic. According to their testimony, Kentucky banks and credit unions have offered loan extensions, modifications, and relaxed loan terms to those struggling financially. Actions like these embody who we are as Kentuckians. When times get hard, we help one another, and I am glad to see that our financial institutions could do this while remaining financially responsible and stable.
Interim Joint Committee on Education: The superintendents of McCracken County, Covington Independent, and Whitley County school districts shared the struggles they are each encountering in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. It varies from each school district whether they teach full in-person education, a hybrid system with some in-person and some virtual, or full virtual. Due to Kentucky’s diversity, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, so each district handles issues differently.
Presenters all shared frustrations with internet connectivity problems and have developed plans to help improve that, including partnering with a local college or city or providing Chromebooks and training to students and parents. During this time, with our world becoming more and more “virtual,” sufficient internet access is necessary for many families. There is no substitute for students being in a classroom setting while learning in person with peers and educators who care about their success and well-being. Students need the socialization and engagement they receive from being physically in school. Still, we must ensure that we get all of our students back into the classroom in a safe manner.
The Interim Joint Committee on Transportation: Transportation Committee members focused, in part, on the trucking industry this month. The Kentucky Trucking Association explained that trucking drives the economy, but without safe roads, it becomes much more difficult. The trucking industry has employed more than 109,000 Kentuckians, providing one of every 15 Kentucky jobs. Nearly 29,000 of those employees are professional truck drivers. According to the association, the industry spent approximately $670 million in federal and state roadway taxes. That number represents 43% of all taxes owed by Kentucky motorists, while trucks represent only 12% of vehicle miles traveled in the state.
COVID-19 continues to leave an impact on the industry as well. Parts of trucking are still doing well as e-commerce expectations are at an all-time high now that holidays are right around the corner and retailers are preparing to restock. When it comes to drivers, COVID-19 created a few more obstacles for them as well. Drivers continue to need personal protective equipment and sanitation products, and states have closed rest areas and truck stops. The biggest challenge may be that there is still a driver shortage because new drivers are finding it difficult to get their CDL because of COVID-19 challenges with driver training programs and the backlog several DMVs are facing.
Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue: Legislators heard a report from the Kentucky Hospital Association (KHA) on the impact of COVID-19. Despite on-going financial challenges, the state’s hospitals are managing capacity. Some local systems are seeing surges, but they are not over-run by COVID-19 patients. The KHA works with hospitals daily to make sure capacity and personal protective equipment are available as needed.
Though healthcare centers are considered a place of healing, many Kentuckians are still not seeking elective procedures that would improve their health and quality of life because they fear contracting the COVID-19 virus. The association shared with lawmakers that hospitals are expected to lose more than $2.6 billion this year due to COVID-19, and they expect the losses will continue in 2021. KHA explained that many of the hospital-requested advance payments from Medicare to help with critical cash flow when elective procedures were halted are not grants of free money. Under the CARES Act, these payments are considered loans which have to be paid back. They urged the committee to think of the significant loss their communities would face should their hospitals, some of which are their largest employers, shut down.
Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary: State Treasurer Allison Ball presented her findings of the investigation regarding state resources being misused by the Governor during the pandemic. On March 19, the Governor issued a statewide directive to stop all mass gatherings, including gatherings at churches and other houses of worship. Many feel, as do I, that this was an attack on religious freedom. Ball brought forth evidence that the Governor ordered Kentucky State Police Troopers to write down license plates of those gathering for Easter services. According to Ball’s evidence, those who did not obey with the notice could potentially have been charged with a Class A Misdemeanor, the penalty for which could be a $500 fine or up to a year in jail. Ball said the investigation uncovered numerous instances of law enforcement being used to monitor or shut down faith-based services and selective and targeted enforcement of mass gathering restrictions.
Judiciary members also heard about NET Recovery Treatment. This is a non-invasive treatment featured in a documentary following former addicts from Kentucky’s very own Isaiah House Recovery Treatment Center. This treatment is administered through a device that provides medication to the addict. The NET Treatment helps the body fast track rejuvenation to neurons and other cells that have been destroyed through constant drug abuse. This treatment is shown to be extremely helpful in offering a second chance for addicts, and those who participated in the trial are now more than two years sober.
As always, I hope you will contact me with your thoughts and ideas on these and other topics we may address during the 2021 legislative session. I can be reached at home anytime or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Samara.Heavrin@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov.