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Alvarado: Budget talks begin in regular session

Discussions of bills, budgets and the voices of a barbershop quartette echoed in the Capitol as we concluded the fourth week of the 2020 Regular Session.

While legislation continued moving steadily through the Senate this week, we were welcomed by a variety of talented constituents in the chamber. 

Biennial budget discussions officially began while the governor delivered his two-year budget proposal to the Kentucky General Assembly Tuesday.

He attempts to fulfill all of the political promises he has made over the last year. Still, it is not entirely clear where he intends to find the money to pay for all of it, and most importantly, which Kentuckians he is asking to foot his hefty bill.

To me, the proposal does not add up. It includes tax increases that only harm small business owners across the Commonwealth.

The budget proposal would also fail to provide necessary funding for last year’s school safety bill, Senate Bill 1.

SB 1 was one of the most bipartisan initiatives in Kentucky to ever move forward.

For all the talk of coming together and showing unity, the governor’s actions continue to be contrary to his rhetoric.

In an ideal world where the funding exists, the governor’s robust proposal should be a noble proposition for which we strive. However, we must balance idealism with stark reality and formulate a state budget with determination and discipline.  

The budget address is one of the first steps in preparing the state’s two-year financial plan. Now that the governor has outlined his budget proposal, the legislature will now exercise its Constitutional authority to draft a responsible and realistic two-year state budget.

This process will begin with the House. Once the House passes its budget proposal, it will then advance to the Senate where my colleagues and I will have an opportunity to weigh in.

We still face several weeks of studies, negotiations and public hearings before we reach an official budget draft.

The final budget document will likely look much different than what was proposed this week by the governor, but the driving force behind it remains the same: we must move the Commonwealth forward on a financially-sound path. 

I look forward to working with everyone to do the best we can to meet the needs of Kentucky citizens.

The Senate progressed in our efforts this past week to do just that as we passed more legislation through the full Senate. 

For example, senate priority legislation aimed at ending pension spiking, Senate Bill 6, advanced to the House following a unanimous vote on the Senate floor. SB 6 would prohibit state lawmakers who contributed to the Legislators’ Retirement Plan from calculating their salary credited in another Kentucky retirement system to determine final compensation in the legislators’ plan. 

SB 8 and SB 9 were both passed through to the House this week.

SB 8 would amend the current school safety law. It seeks to expand school personnel with the designation of a school safety coordinator for each district, one school-based mental health counselor per 250 students and a well-trained and certified armed school resource officer.

SB 9, also known as the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” is a pro-life measure that requires a physician to take all medically-appropriate and reasonable steps to preserve the life and health of a born-alive infant.

I was happy to vote yes on both of these bills that provide protections for our most precious blessings. 

We also moved several other bills. 

SB 45, legislation to set standards for food nutrition, physical activity and screen time at child care centers, passed through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week.

As chairman of this committee, I am glad to see this bill filed and become eligible for a vote on the Senate floor.

This measure would require licensed care centers to meet the most recent version of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s food and nutrition standards.

SB 79 is a measure relating to background checks for school employees who have been assigned an administrative hearing for potential child abuse or neglect. Another bill that passed through the Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday was one of my bills, SB 40, a bill related to child welfare.

The bill would require front line staff at child care facilities to submit a national and state fingerprint-supported background check.

This is an important bill not just because it provides safety and security for children, but also because this is something the federal government is requiring we do. Failure to act would result in the loss of millions of federal dollars.  

SBs 60 and 102 also passed out of the Health and Welfare Committee. You can find details of those bills at www.legislature.ky.gov.  

Finally, the first House Bill to find success in this session was HB 236, legislation that brings Kentucky law on hemp products in line with federal guidelines. The bill will also help in addressing some issues with the testing and transportation of hemp products to make it easier for Kentucky growers and address some backlog issues the hemp industry is facing.  

I appreciate people taking the time to reach out to me over the past few weeks. Your engagement in policy discussion is essential, and I want to hear your input. 

If you are interested in keeping up to date on legislation online, visit the Legislative Research Commission’s website provided above.

As always, please do not hesitate to call me about this issue or any other public policy issue at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Ralph.Alvarado@LRC.ky.gov. I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the 28th District and encourage your feedback throughout the legislative session.

God bless you and be safe.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) represents the 28th state senate district, which includes Clark, Montgomery and part of Fayette counties. He can be reached toll free at 1-800-372-7181 or by email at Ralph.Alvarado@lrc.ky.gov.