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ALVARADO: Talk of COVID dominates in Frankfort

COVID-19 has become the topic of discussion in Frankfort and Washington, D.C., this past week.

The concern of rapid spread and the experiences of other countries has prompted our national and state officials to take unprecedented actions to help curb the spread of the virus.

I realize many are upset about the inconvenience of these actions. However, it is important to realize the “why” that caused these actions to occur.

Most of us are accustomed to influenza outbreaks every year. These outbreaks occur over a six- to eight-month period, and our medical infrastructure capacity, along with the availability of vaccinations for influenza, helps to curb the strain on our medical resources.

With COVID-19, the virus is highly contagious and will likely infect large portions of our population. Without a vaccination, the spike of illness will likely occur over a much shorter time frame; perhaps three to four weeks.

There are not enough medical providers and resources to handle the strain that this would place on our health care infrastructure. This is why we are seeing such drastic actions taking place in hopes of bending the curve of infections.

Imagine if 10,000 people suffered a fracture of their leg. Over a year, we could handle all the cases, bur over one week, there would not be enough resources to handle everyone’s case.

While we take national and state action to curb this infection, I would urge everyone to wash their hands frequently, avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, and maintain social distancing from others when possible. Avoid shaking hands and be sure to wipe down doorknobs and other frequently-touched surfaces in your home and office.

If you are over the age of 60, take extra precautions as you are more susceptible to poor outcomes from this infection. And, by all means, if you feel ill (fever, cough, muscle aches), contact your medical provider and practice self-imposed isolation to cut down the transmission of disease.

The Kentucky General Assembly was postponed this week. The extraordinary move was made in light of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In a bicameral and bipartisan statement, legislative leaders said they decided to exercise an abundance of caution and pause legislative business for a couple days. This will provide an opportunity to evaluate safety procedures. It is anticipated the session will resume on Tuesday.

Despite the delay, the General Assembly is still constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget by April 15. The Senate is in receipt of the House’s version of the executive branch budget bill, accompanying revenue bill and legislative branch budget bill.

Many of us in the Senate, including yours truly, continue to meet to discuss and shape our top priority: the state budget. The three transportation-related budget bills and the judicial branch budget bill remain in the House.

Here are some of the measures that moved in the Senate before the postponement:

— Senate Bill 178 would regulate plaintiff lawyer advertisements that target consumers of prescription drugs and medical devices. A much-debated provision would require the ads to display this warning: “Do not stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting with your doctor. Discontinuing a prescribed medication without your doctor’s advice can result in injury or death.”

A second provision would prohibit the use of a government agency logo in a manner that suggests an affiliation. A third provision would prohibit ads that solicit legal business from being labeled a “medical alert” or “health alert.” Lastly, SB 178 would protect personal health information from being sold for soliciting legal services without the written authorization of the patient.

Supporters of SB 178 said the ads compromise the doctor-patient relationship and potentially put consumers’ health at risk. The opponents said the Kentucky Bar Association is already tasked with policing legal advertisements. SB 178 passed by a 21-13 vote; it now goes to the House for its consideration.

— House Bill 153 would establish the Kentucky Mental Health First Aid Training Program. It would be tasked with training professionals and members of the public to identify and assist individuals with mental health or substance use disorders.

Subject to future appropriations, grants would be awarded to teach mental health first aid. The grants would be awarded equitably among geographical regions and meet the needs of rural areas that have underserved populations or shortages of health care providers. The recipients of the awards may include law enforcement, correction, education, military, older adult and youth-focused agencies in addition to retail establishments.

Supporters said mental health first aid helps communities address individuals’ mental health or substance use disorders before they lead to more serious problems. Kentucky has a higher rate of young people dying of preventable causes than most other states. Most of the risk factors for these early deaths are related to mental health issues. HB 153 passed by a 34-0 vote; it now goes back to the House for its consideration of amendments made to the bill.

— Senate Bill 106 contains a proposed constitutional amendment to repeal Section 233 of the state constitution, which states that any laws in effect in Virginia before June 1792 are in effect in Kentucky. Exceptions are currently made to that part of the constitution if the Virginia laws are specific to that state, not of a “general nature,” are in conflict with Kentucky’s constitution and laws, or have been altered or repealed by the Kentucky General Assembly.

Supporters of SB 106 explained the section came about when Kentucky broke apart from Virginia to become the 15th state. They stated a search of case law found Section 233 was last cited in the early 1940s. SB 106 passed by a 32-2 vote; it now goes to the House for its consideration.

— Senate Bill 218 would prohibit a driver for a taxi company or ridesharing app from having sexual contact with a passenger within 12 hours of the drop-off. A driver who violated SB 218 could be charged with the crime of sexual abuse.

SB 218 supporters said the legislation is needed because Uber self-reported 235 rapes, 280 attempted rapes and 5,981 sexual assaults in 2018. The supporters said the idea was to remove the ability for drivers accused of rape to claim the intercourse was consensual. SB 218 passed by a 30-2 vote; it now goes to the House for its consideration.

— Senate Bill 63 would allow high school dropouts who are 21 or older to complete graduation requirements through “virtual instruction,” a non-traditional form of education that uses the Internet to deliver distance learning. The House amended it to state the schooling could be completed in another district if the student had moved. The Senate concurred with the House change by a 34-0 vote; the bill has been delivered to the governor for his signature.

— House Bill 208 would require wireless providers of Lifeline federal-assistance telephone service to make monthly 911 service fee payments to the state. Supporters stressed the measure wouldn’t make anyone’s mobile phone bill go up; it would just close a loophole that one service providers exploited to not pay the fee.

They also said SB 208 would restore more than $1 million a year in funding to 911 service centers across the state. That would help with the implementation of so-called Next Generation 911 service — an advanced model for wireless emergency communications across the nation. SB 208 passed by a 34-0 vote; it now goes back to the House for its consideration of amendments made to the bill.

— House Bill 266 would allow honorably discharged veterans to enroll their children in a school district in which they are building a house — even if it’s not ready for occupancy. Supporters of the bill said the goal would be to simplify the relocation process for military families. HB 266 was filed after a retiring military helicopter pilot with three tours of duty in the Middle East had trouble enrolling his child in a school district in which he was building a house. HB 266 passed by a 34-0 vote; it now awaits delivery to the governor.

Technology allows one to continue to engage in the legislative process while avoiding public gathering to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. You may visit our website for legislative information at any time at legislature.ky.gov.

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.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) represents the 28th State Senate District including Clark and Montgomery counties and the eastern portion of Fayette County.