Nine of the 60 legislative days we have this session are now behind us, a fact that provides perspective on why the work we did to prepare for this session was so important. I am pleased to see House committees begin meeting regularly to vet legislation and send bills and resolutions to the full House for a vote. Before I share a summary of this week’s activities, I want to remind you that following the legislature is easier than ever. You can visit our website at legislature.ky.gov and watch both live and recorded meetings on YouTube at KY LRC Committee Meetings or on Kentucky Educational Television at ket.org/legislature.

We acted swiftly on two measures to help those impacted by the December tornadoes in West and Western Kentucky. Not a single vote was cast against HB 5, which creates a fund and allocates $200 million towards education services, temporary housing, the rebuilding of public buildings, and the reimbursement of costs incurred by local governments and utilities for their response. While some of this funding may be reimbursed to the state through FEMA or insurance, these communities need access to resources immediately. This is the first step in what will no doubt be a long march towards rebuilding these communities. We also voted unanimously to approve HJR 29, which extends only the executive orders necessary to recovery and rebuilding efforts in the region.

Death Benefits for First Responders who die of COVID-related complications: Members of the House State Government Committee approved HB 56 this week. The measure amends state law to ensure that families of first responders who died as a result of COVID-19 will be eligible for death benefits. Eligibility would only apply to those first responders who have served within 14 days of diagnosis and would retroactively cover deaths dating back to when the first case was diagnosed in Kentucky on March 6, 2020.

Practicing law without a license: The House Judiciary Committee voted to send the full House legislation aimed at ensuring Kentuckians are not taken advantage of by someone pretending to be qualified to give legal advice. The measure, HB 256, would increase the penalty to a Class A misdemeanor on the first offense and a Class D felony for any subsequent offense. Currently, any offense, even repeated, is a Class B misdemeanor.

Substance Abuse Treatment using Prescription Digital Therapeutics (PDTs): The House Health and Family Services Committee voted to approve legislation that requires the state’s Medicaid program to seek coverage and reimbursement for the use of prescription digital therapeutics from the federal government. HJR 28 could mean access to life-changing and life-saving care using a PDTs, a software-based treatment model that is proving to be effective.

Expediting Services for those in need of Court-Ordered Outpatient Treatment: Health and Family Services members also approved HB 127, which would expedite the use of Tim’s Law to have more individuals in need of court-ordered outpatient treatment (AOT) receive that help in getting them on the road to recovery. Tim’s Law was adopted in 2017 and has proven effective in allowing families, mental health providers, law enforcement officers and others help someone with a serious mental illness.

Finding “Free” Money: HB 126 would require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as part of high school graduation requirements. The bill passed the House Education Committee and will now go to the full House. Recent studies show that Kentucky students are missing out on an estimated $30 million in higher education scholarships, grants, and other assistance because they choose not to fill out their FAFSA.

Increased Access to GEDs: House Education also approved HB 194, which would allow students unable to graduate to immediately begin working on their General Education Development (GED) tests to be eligible for more job options.

I am reviewing the Governor’s budget recommendations, which he presented to us on Thursday evening. While I want to reserve comment until I get a chance to dig deeper into the bill, I am concerned at the massive amount of spending and his statement that he does not support tax reform. I would prefer we budget to our state’s needs and focus more on modernizing the tax code to grow our economy and return tax dollars to Kentuckians.

In addition to our legislative work, I was also extremely pleased to see the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) halt the Biden administration’s attempt to mandate privately owned businesses require employees be vaccinated. I appreciate the Court’s consideration of this issue. I think most of us understand that it is not government’s role to mandate the vaccination of private individuals. Instead, we should continue talking about how to best provide the tools that individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations need to address COVIDjust like all challenges they face.

As always, I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. Feel free to contact me via email at Richard.Heath@lrc.ky.gov. If you would like more information, please visit the LRC website www.legislature.ky.gov.