Saturday, February 27, 2021 12:41 PM
Governor’s challenge of separation of powers legislation continuesAs you know by now, the first votes taken when we returned to Frankfort earlier this month were to override the vetoes of six bills passed during the January portion of the session. The bills vetoed include pro-life legislation, a measure that changes an archaic law that limits where Kentuckians can file suit against the state, and legislation that redefines the emergency powers of governors. Each of these vetoes passed with an overwhelming majority, and I know that my vote reflected the phone calls, messages, and conversations I have had with the people of this district over the past year.
Shortly after we cast our votes, the bills were signed and filed by the Secretary of State. While all six measures contain emergency clauses that make them effective immediately, the Governor filed suit to stop three of them within minutes of their delivery to the Secretary of State. The Governor is challenging HB 1, SB 1, and SB 2. HB 1 creates a framework to help businesses, schools, nonprofits, and other organizations remain safely open throughout the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other provisions of HB 1 give employers some relief in making their unemployment insurance payments and provides for visitation of those in long-term care as well as children in state custody.
SB 1 and SB 2 are specifically aimed at increasing oversight and transparency, as well as strengthening the separation of powers called for in the Kentucky Constitution. SB 1 recognizes the need for Kentucky to act quickly in an emergency but also prevents a governor from overstepping his or her authority and attempt to legislate through executive orders during a long-term emergency. Similarly, SB 2 prevents the executive branch from effectively making laws by issuing regulations rather than going through the legislature. Under the provisions of SB 1 and SB 2, the Governor’s COVID-related emergency orders will expire on March 4. At that point, the General Assembly will decide whether to extend these mandates past March 4.
The day after the Governor filed suit, a Franklin Circuit Court Judge granted the administration’s request to temporarily block a section of HB 1 from becoming law. That section specifically allows any business, school, church or local government to remain open if they adopt an operating plan that is consistent with guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or executive branch. The injunction on this provision continues after the judge met with attorneys from both the legislative and executive branches last week. During that hearing, the same judge stated he hopes to issue a final ruling on the case before the end of February. At that time, we will learn if we must continue to defend the legislature’s authority.
While the Governor and others claim this legislation is motivated by politics, in reality, it is part of a national trend. State legislatures across the country are reexamining how existing laws define the boundary between legislative and executive authority called for in the separation of powers. It is happening in states where the legislative and executive branches are led by the same political parties as well as those where they are split, so it is misleading to frame this action as one political party going after another. It is happening in every region – including Louisiana, New York, California, and in neighboring states like Indiana and Ohio. This is not about “reining in” the Governor’s authority but rather about making sure the line between the legislative and executive branch is clear.
In addition to the national trend, Kentucky’s legislature has less authority to act as a “check” to the executive branch when compared to other states. Previous legislatures have given Kentucky governors broad authority in a state of emergency, and we are in session only three or four months a year. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many areas that need improvement and we have an opportunity to use this experience to make sure that our statutes reflect the people’s will and the need for good government. It is our responsibility to do so because, as the old saying goes, there is no education in the second kick of a mule.
We have just two weeks of legislative days left in this year’s legislative session and must adjourn by March 30. I will continue to update you on our progress.
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2020 Session Results: Child Welfare
Representative Richard White
There are just under 10,000 children in foster care here in Kentucky, a truly staggering number that continues to rise year after year. As I consistently say, our number one mission is to make Kentucky the best place to live and work – and that has to include how we approach the children in state care and kinship care. We have a legal obligation to do right by them. But, we also have a moral obligation to ensure our state serves them to the best of its ability. That makes the laws we pass regarding child welfare critical. Frankly, the stakes are too high to get it wrong.
During the 2020 Session, the General Assembly passed several measures to improve our child welfare system. Among them is HB 167, which builds on legislation that was passed during 2019 to give foster parents a more prominent voice during court proceedings. I think we can all agree that foster parents offer valuable insight into what is best for a child in their care. HB 167 protects them by allowing them to intervene anonymously in parental rights termination hearings. It only makes sense that families who have opened their homes to a child can advocate for their best interests.
We also approved legislation aimed at easing the transition to a new school for Kentucky's foster children. HB 312 would expedite transferring a child's confidential records between school districts and require more state collaboration with local school districts to help meet the child's needs. Many schools struggle to help foster children because they simply do not have the information they need. This bill continues our mission to improve our children's opportunities in foster care and builds on the Foster Child Bill of Rights passed during the 2019 Regular Session.
Senate Bill 115 opens career doors for foster and adoptive children. There are currently tuition waiver programs in place that help children in the foster care system pay for undergraduate work in college. Under the provisions of this bill, the waiver applies to graduate programs. It also extends the period for eligibility. We hear time and again of the struggles and hardships children face when they age out of the foster care system. I hope that including graduate programs in the tuition waiver program will incentivize the continued pursuit of higher education and make it more affordable and accessible. Hopefully, this change gives individuals a leg up as they seek to better themselves through educational opportunities.
I am proud of the measures we passed during the 2020 Legislative Session. However, there is still more work to be done. It continues through the legislative interim as the Child Welfare and Oversight Committee continues its work. As I stated earlier, nearly 10,000 kids are in state care. That number is expected to grow as the economy struggles to regain strength in this pandemic. Experts also believe we see an increase in child abuse cases once children return to the classroom where teachers and staff are trained to identify abuse and neglect. We know that our social workers struggle with unimaginably high caseloads, leading to high turnover rates, burnout, and low morale. In fact, the House version of the budget we passed before COVID included funding for a hundred new positions, and also a five percent raise to retain those who already work for us. Unfortunately, we were unable to include this in the final version of the budget because of anticipated budget shortfalls.
We need to find better ways to recruit and retain loving foster homes. Finding homes has been a big issue during the pandemic, with so much uncertainty and little administration guidance. However, we did not have enough foster homes before COVID-19. You can imagine that this is a big responsibility but can be life-changing for both the foster child and the foster parent. I firmly believe that children's future success in the foster care system is based largely on the support found in families and communities.
When my colleagues and I return to Frankfort in just over a hundred days, we will continue our commitment and prepared to take steps to keep kids and families safe. We must continue to look at all of these problems and bring forth compassionate, commonsense, and practical solutions.
Please contact me if I can ever be of assistance to you. I can be reached through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181, you can contact me via e-mail at Richard.White@lrc.ky.gov, or you can message me on Facebook @whiteforstaterep.
Friday, September 4, 2020 3:49 PM
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A busy week in Frankfort last week covered multiple subjects including education, transportation, and finance.
A busy week in Frankfort last week covered multiple subjects including education, transportation, and finance.
While COVID-19 forces us to change our short term focus, our long term priority remains the same: to make Kentucky the best place to live and work. That is why these interim joint committees are so important. It allows us to continue to see the impact that the coronavirus response and mitigation have had on multiple facets of life in Kentucky. These are just a few of this week's highlights:
Interim Joint Committee on Education: Dr. Jason Glass, the new Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, was introduced and talked about budget shortfalls and looked forward to working with the legislature in the coming months. The meeting also featured Eric Kennedy, Director of Governmental Relations for the Kentucky School Boards Association, and Jim Flynn, Executive Director for the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents. They shared their professional opinions that reopening schools should be left to individual districts and not to the Governor. They testified that because of the vast differences in communities across the state, there should not be a one size fits all approach to this issue for providing education and reopening school. The impact of COVID-19 on SEEK funding was discussed this week in the Budget Review Subcommittee on Education. SEEK funding is the amount of state funding that each district receives based on the number of students they serve. The state generally calculates it based on the average daily attendance numbers. The legislature was able to temporarily adjust that when we were still in the 2020 Regular Session. With the passage of SB 170, we allowed schools to substitute attendance from either of the past two years as they moved to remote nontraditional learning.
Interim Joint Committee on Transportation: Jobs go where roads lead them. That is why it is crucial to pay close attention to our road budget to ensure we have strategically planned and well-built infrastructure. The final fiscal year road fund report presented by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet updated the committee on the road budget shortfall of $60.3 million. COVID has certainly impacted motor fuel tax revenues because of the shutdown and the difficulty in collecting various fees and licenses due to various government offices being closed.
Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue: No one was surprised when the State Budget Director shared his concerns about the 2021 budget. The impact of COVID and the state's response to the pandemic have led to a major decrease in the revenue we expect to receive to pay for programs going forward. Like in households across our state, spending will have to be evaluated. The budget director placed much of the blame on a need for more federal stimulus dollars. However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the federal government has already provided more than a billion dollars to our state government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security ACT (CARES). We know this will be the most challenging budget prepared in modern times. I am still concerned about asking for more federal money and pretending it is not tax dollars just because it comes from the federal government. It is important to note that Kentucky ended the fiscal year with a $177.5 million surplus because we reopened the current year budget and made changes when COVID-19 hit. We will need every dime of this as we craft the next year's budget, which is why we required any surplus to go into the rainy day fund.
Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy: The permitting process for a coal mining company was discussed in this month's meeting. The company must receive approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open. Unfortunately, throughout the permitting process, the expectations and regulations have continually changed, forcing the coal mining company to waste valuable resources and time. All of this uncertainty in the permitting process could ultimately mean lost revenue and forced layoffs. This area desperately needs more jobs, and the potential job loss at this specific company could impact the entire region. Coal miners are a vital part of the eastern Kentucky economy.
Remember that even though we are not in a legislative session, I am still a voice for you here in Frankfort and want to hear from you regarding concerns or issues. I can be reached through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181 or here at home. You can also contact me via e-mail at Richard.White@lrc.ky.gov or message me on my Facebook page @ Richard White for State Representative District 99.
Monday, August 24, 2020 4:49 PM
I want to address something that has been on my mind and heart. In any given year, an estimated one in seven Kentucky children is abused. Now we have COVID-19, and with it comes thousands of Kentucky families who were just beginning to find stability now face unemployment, overdue bills, and the continued stress of not knowing how they'll put food on the table. Because so many of our children won't be in schools this fall, it will be harder for our educators and administrators to provide critical services and identify the signs of abuse and neglect. Children will be in danger.
We all need to be good friends and neighbors to ensure children remain safe and healthy. If you can, offer parents a break or encouragement. Teachers and school staff may not have the opportunity to see the signs of abuse as the school year begins. Still, we can do our part by being vigilant and caring and remembering that our future depends on our children.
If you have reason to believe a child is a victim of abuse or neglect, immediately call the Kentucky Child Abuse Reporting Hotline at 1-800-752-6200. This number is answered 24-hours a day, seven days a week. If you cannot get through to this number for any reason, call your county's Child Protective Services Office (in the Office for Health and Family Services), the local police, or the County or Commonwealth Attorneys' Office.