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This Week at the KY State Capitol

Lawmakers send bills on disaster relief and remote instruction to the governor

By Mike Wynn, LRC

Frankfort, KY - The Kentucky General Assembly hit its stride in the second week of the 2022 legislative session, passing a $200 million disaster relief bill for Western Kentucky and advancing a series of education bills on remote instruction, early literacy and student mental health.

The short, four-day week was punctuated by grief for many lawmakers amid the deaths of two high-profile figures in Kentucky politics.

Former State Rep. Darryl Owens was remembered in a funeral service in Louisville on Tuesday, following his death on Jan. 4. Thursday brought word that Larry Forgy, who had remained active in Kentucky politics for decades, had passed away early that morning.

However, the sad news did not deter legislators from addressing some of the largest crises facing the Commonwealth.

Bipartisanship reached the high mark on Wednesday when more than a dozen legislators spoke on the House and Senate floors about the violent tornados that swept through Western Kentucky in mid-December. Lawmakers capped off the poignant discussion by passing the relief bill on a unanimous vote in both chambers.

The measure, House Bill 5, was married to a companion bill in the Senate. It appropriates $155 million to the newly-created West Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) Fund, which will help local governments, schools, nonprofits and public utilities pay for recovery efforts.

Another $30 million will help school districts pay for transportation and construction costs as well as wrap-around services for students, and $15 million will go to Kentucky Emergency Management to cover temporary housing.

Legislators also prioritized efforts this week to cope with COVID-19, including a bill that will give public schools more flexibility on remote instruction and staffing.

Senate Bill 25, which cleared both chambers on Thursday, allows school superintendents to allocate up to 10 remote instruction days to specific classrooms, grades or schools. Supporters say the targeted strategy will prioritize in-person learning and help prevent the shutdown of entire schools or districts at once.

The legislation also allows more retired teachers to return to the classroom, helping districts respond to staff shortages, and it extends a series of emergency orders from last year related to a variety of pandemic issues, such as price gouging and food assistance.

Another measure--House Bill 56--would provide $80,000 in death benefits to families of first responders who died from COVID-related complications. It cleared a House committee this week and now heads to the floor.

Aside from remote learning, a handful of other education bills that have begun their march through the legislature. That includes legislation to allow absences for student mental health and another bill that would require high school seniors to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Both measures moved out of committee this week and up for consideration by the full House.

Lawmakers also made headway on the "Read to Succeed Act" in the Senate, which seeks to improve early literacy by ramping up evidence-based instruction, early interventions and teacher training. The measure advanced out of committee on Thursday and now heads to the Senate floor.

Earlier in the week, legislative leaders adjusted the 2022 session calendar to remove Friday from the schedule. Lawmakers will also not convene on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but will return to Frankfort on Tuesday for the 10th day of the legislative session.

In the final - and now famous speech - before his death, King challenged a crowd in Memphis, Tennessee to look to the future.

"Let us rise up tonight with great readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be," he said.

Lawmakers want to know your thoughts on what Kentucky ought to be.

Observers have many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process, including the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to review and track a bill's progression through the chambers.

Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly's toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

This story was posted on 2022-01-14 14:24:37
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