By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator
Saturday 28 August 2021 – Kentucky has been in a perpetual state of emergency since March 6, 2020. Since the onset of the global pandemic, the voice of the representative branch of state government, the Kentucky General Assembly, has not always been heard regarding the state’s response to COVID-19. Following recent rulings by Senior US Judge William O. Bertelsman and the Kentucky Supreme Court, that has changed.
On Saturday, August 21, the Kentucky Supreme Court rendered a unanimous decision affirming the legislation passed at the recent Kentucky General Assembly session. House Bill 1, House Resolution 77, Senate Bill 1, and Senate Bill 2 provide for legislative oversight of the emergency powers of the executive. The legislation reformed Kentucky Law (KRS 39A), which was an outlier regarding the scope of powers it allowed the executive to exercise during a declared state of emergency. Only nine other states currently have no relevant provision for legislative oversight of emergency executive powers. A majority of states have proven to be able to respond and mitigate COVID-19 through cooperation and deliberation involving more than the executive branch of state government.
With the executive’s limited engagement with the Kentucky legislature throughout this pandemic, we have stood firm and ready to help. In April 2020, weeks after the declaration of a state of emergency, the Kentucky General Assembly enacted legislation that broadly supported the emergency measures put in place by the governor. As Kentucky’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) system became overburdened after the state shutdown, lawmakers offered 100 employees to help. Over time, the legislature enacted laws to provide protections for Kentuckians who mistakenly received benefits they would be required to repay. We also provided millions of dollars to upgrade the dilapidated computer system. These are just a few examples of the efforts of lawmakers.
On unemployment insurance, I worked to help those whose unemployment funds were not paid. With my best efforts and those of others, there are still many people who have not received their benefits. If this is the case for you, a loved one or a colleague, please email me at [email protected]
Countless phone calls, letters and legislative updates since the onset of the pandemic have expressed the frustrations of lawmakers, who are keen to engage and share their unique perspectives from the districts they represent. Following court rulings, the Franklin Circuit Court injunction on the legislation was ordered to be lifted. At that time, the legislature will assume its necessary role in the ongoing discussions on COVID-19. At the time of this column’s submission, the Franklin Circuit Court has not formally lifted the injunction. Rather, the judge gave the respective parties in the case ten days to negotiate and respond. To be clear, the state of emergency remains in effect. Lawmakers are hoping for a reset in relations with the executive branch and to engage in a way that will ensure the holistic good of the Commonwealth. This is what we have been asking for from the start.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise again, I encourage you to take reasonable steps to stay safe. Although I have personally chosen to be vaccinated against COVID-19, I understand that there are hesitations and that genuine concerns deserve respect. If you have any doubts or concerns, do not hesitate to consult your doctor to see if this may be right for you. If you are at a higher risk of COVID-19, please take whatever precautions you feel are necessary to stay safe. It should be remembered that over 90% of COVID-19-related deaths in Kentucky are aged 60 or older. Forty-five percent are over 80 years old. The delta variant appears to be more transmissible than the original variant and makes young people sicker than before.
The Kentucky General Assembly stands ready to be a partner in the fight against COVID-19 and hopes that our concerns and those of our constituents are welcome as part of the conversation moving forward.