During the 2020 election cycle, Kentuckians signaled loud and clear when they elected a Republican supermajority of 75 and 30. This week as we concluded the 2021 legislative session, we worked diligently to fulfill the will of our constituents and exercise our authority as the chief lawmaking body.
The last two days of session, we worked to override several bills previously vetoed by the governor, concurred on legislation, and passed new legislation. During this time, we considered the Governor’s veto messages and heard from stakeholders. One veto we chose not to override is SB 63, which requires that no voting system be connected to the internet, and requires all votes to be cast on paper ballots and marked with a pen. While we agree this bill is a step toward increased confidence in the integrity of Kentucky elections, after hearing input from county clerks and other stake holders, we found some unintended consequences. Luckily, we don’t have an election this year, so this is a measure we can revisit next session just in time for the next election cycle.
As you know, COVID-19 changed everything from how our kids attend school, how we grocery shop, and even how we participated in the 2020 election. COVID-19 produced many obstacles regarding the 2020 general election and required local officials to adapt to the unprecedented public health risk. County officials took every obstacle in stride and as a result, in Kentucky we had a successful, safe and fair election.
HB 574 retains some of the emergency procedures used during the 2020 general election cycle and builds on safeguards to maintain election integrity. This includes early in-person voting, which was widely popular during the general election. This provision is a great way to maintain flexibility for people who work on Election Day, but still value voting in-person. For those that prefer voting by absentee, this bill makes the process safer by mandating the use of monitored drop boxes.
While HB 574 retains these popular procedures used in the 2020 election, it also provides safeguards to ensure election integrity. This measure removes the Governor’s ability to declare different election procedures during a state of emergency by executive order, and prohibits ballot harvesting by barring people from collecting mail-in absentee ballots. It also requires the state Board of Elections to remove a voter from the voter registration records once the board is notified from a local or state jurisdiction that the voter is registered in another state. While we know Kentucky conducted a fair and safe election, we are confident these provisions will strengthen our election laws for the future.
With the end of session looming, legislators hustled to pass bills like HB 382, originally a simple appropriations bill that was amended in the Senate to include some general fund appropriations and appropriations of the funding received in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). We appropriated $140 million of the general fund for full-day kindergarten which, if signed by the Governor, would help free up money from the education budget for other needs. This surplus could be used to increase SEEK funding by $175 per pupil, among other needs.
As we passed the budget a couple weeks ago, we cited the need to brace for anticipated unemployment costs. Luckily, we were able to use $575 million of ARPA funds to cover our debt and future costs on federal unemployment insurance trust fund. This is a pivotal step towards promoting economic recovery and reducing impending debt. Because of this, we are very glad to include this appropriation in the final version of HB 382.
Finally, we appropriated $50 million of the ARPA funds for the deployment of broadband to go towards the unserved or underserved households, businesses and non-profits throughout the state. This extra $50 million will join the already appropriated $250 million Broadband Development Fund in HB 320. This funding is directly earmarked towards covering last mile infrastructure, and will go to the areas that need it most.
As always, am grateful to serve this district and our communities. As we transition into the interim session, please feel free to contact me if you need help or assistance. I can be reached during the week from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (EST) through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at MaryBeth.Imes@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of interim committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov.
Mary Beth Imes (R-Murray) represents the 5th House District, which includes Calloway County and a portion of Trigg County.
Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of the Murray Ledger & Times.