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What happened last week in Frankfort; and what's in store this week

Written by Mark Payne, LINKnky government and politics reporter 

A new two-year state budget was a big story in Frankfort last week, and will likely be again this week. Eyes will also be on the newly proposed legislative and congressional maps, now that redistricting bills have cleared the General Assembly and await a signature or a veto from Governor Andy Beshear.

Here, we look back on last week and ahead to this week.

Gov. Beshear ended the week with his budget address, but other big news on Thursday was the passing of the bipartisan tornado relief legislation, or House Bill 5.

“It was my first priority during this session to get aid to Kentuckians impacted by the deadly tornadoes, and while more will be needed, today I am proud to sign this bill,” Beshear said. “I want every family and community touched by these storms to know that we are with you, all of Kentucky is with you – today, tomorrow, and however long it takes until we rebuild every structure, every life.”

HB5 provides $200 million in funding, with an immediate $45 million available. Thirty million will go to schools, with $15 million available for temporary housing. The school money will be used to help repair the physical structures of schools, as well as counseling and providing transportation for students displaced by the tornadoes.

The Senate worked on a companion bill, Senate Bill 5, for the legislation, with local Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill) noting that a significant number of Northern Kentuckians were pitching in to help storm-affected areas.

“There is nothing that unites Kentuckians like the desire to help our neighbors in need,” McDaniel said. “From locals with chainsaws and tractors to supplies and blood drives from hundreds of miles away, Kentuckians always rally in a time of need. SB 5 is the legislative extension of that rallying to make certain that our neighbors get more stability in their schools and their homes as they continue the long process of recovery from these storms.”

Another piece of legislation signed into law Friday will give school superintendents up to 10 remote days to be used at their discretion. It also extends the State of emergency orders for COVID throughout the state, which will prevent pandemic issues like price gouging. It will also help provide food assistance.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, the legislature moved around their schedule to accommodate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as well as concerns over COVID-19 as cases and the state's positivity rate continue to rise.

The session will reconvene at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Tuesday is also the deadline for Gov. Andy Beshear to approve or veto the House and Senate redistricting bills. If he vetoes, the legislature has the power to override. Republicans hold veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers. However, litigation through the courts could follow.

The governor's proposed budget and the one proposed by Republicans in the House will likely be considered this week, too. 

When Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) and House Speaker David Osborne (R-Prospect) spoke after the governor’s address on Jan. 13, they both said they needed time to look at the budget to determine if there was any common ground between both budgets.

While Sen. Chris McDaniel noted there are some good economic markers in the governor’s budget address, it’s conservative budgets that have led Kentucky to such large windfalls, he said.

“I am proud of the surpluses generated by the conservative budgets we have written for the past six years,” said Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill). “I applaud several of the items in the governor’s budget, including raises for state police and an added commitment to child welfare services. However, I am mainly disappointed to hear that the governor’s plans are largely nothing more than big spending and bigger government rather than helping average Kentuckians as they deal with closed schools and crushing inflation. His cradle-to-grave view of government does not align with the self-reliant nature of our people.”