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Kentucky Legislature Begins Passing Flurry Of Bills Ahead Of Deadline

Stephanie Wolf

Lawmakers hurried bills dealing with school choice, broadband funding and tax breaks for data centers through the Kentucky legislature ahead of Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto period, which begins at midnight.

The deadline means today is the last day the Republican-led legislature can pass bills and still have the chance to override any vetoes issued by Beshear, a Democrat.

Lawmakers will return to consider veto overrides during the final two days of the legislative session on March 29 and 30. But any bills passed on those last days won’t be veto-proof.

Here’s what lawmakers are trying to pass under the wire:

Broadband Funding

Lawmakers are poised to set aside $250 million to boost access to broadband internet in Kentucky’s underserved areas.

The money comes from Kentucky’s share of the federal coronavirus relief package, which so far lawmakers have otherwise left untouched.

House Bill 320 unanimously passed the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee on Tuesday and only allows $50 million of the funds to be spent before April 2022.

Republican Senate Pro Tem David Givens said lawmakers were “planting the seed” and could make more decisions about funding in the future.

 “Let’s get people doing it right before we start overfunding or funding in ways that cause potential mischief or poor investments,” Givens said.

The move comes as Kentucky is set to receive $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money that can be used for coronavirus-related expenses and infrastructure projects.

Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey said he doesn’t like the “piecemeal” approach Republican lawmakers are taking to using the coronavirus funds.

“Today we are making a change in a bill where we are putting federal money into this legislation without knowing exactly the guidelines and everything that goes along with that,” McGarvey said.

Republican Lawmakers passed a state budget on Monday that blocks the governor from accessing the relief funds without approval from the legislature.

Tax Breaks

The Senate passed House Bill 372, which provides $15 million in tax breaks to companies that open data centers in Kentucky. It still needs to pass the House again before it heads to Beshear’s desk.

Supporters of the bill say it will attract companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google to build data centers in the state

In order to qualify, companies would need to invest at least $150 million in five years and create 20 new jobs.

According to anofficial cost analysis, the bill would have a “substantial” negative impact “if a number of entities avail themselves of this exemption.”

“Verification of the investment and new jobs criteria, as well as the amount of exemption claimed, will be difficult without an examination by the Department of the applicant and the applicant’s contractor and subcontractors records,” the analysis states.

The bill was amended on Tuesday to include a separate tax break for people who work from home for companies outside of Kentucky, starting at $5,000 per year.

School Choice Bill

An omnibus school choice bill continues to evolve as it advances through the legislature.

House Bill 563 would create “education opportunity accounts” that can be used to pay for private school tuition in the state’s eight most populous counties.

The accounts would be funded by up to $25 million in tax-deductible donations from private citizens and could also go to public school student expenses like supplies and textbooks.

Republican Rep. Chad McCoy is the sponsor of the bill.

 “The point of this bill is to help the children whose families don’t have the money and opportunities the rest of us have. We are in fact not going to help everybody, we’re going to help the poorest of the poor,” McCoy said

It also includes a controversial provision making it easier for students to attend schools outside of their home districts.

A provision funding all-day kindergarten was stripped from the bill in its latest version.

Louisville Civilian Review Board

The fight over whether and how to provide Louisville’s new civilian review board with subpoena power continues, and a resolution still isn’t clear.

On Tuesday, the Senate State and Local Government Committee stripped language from House Bill 309 that would provide the board with subpoena power, as long as it was approved by the Louisville Metro Council’s Oversight and Audit Committee.

Republican Rep. Jason Nemes said he believes compromise language will be proposed as a floor amendment if the full Senate takes it up, but city officials quickly sounded the alarm on it.

In aTwitter thread, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the proposal is a “bad bill.”

“What we DO want, and what has been and remains my No. 1 legislative priority, is a bill that provides subpoena power for our new Civilian Review Board to help us build greater trust and accountability between police and the larger community they serve,” Fischer writes.

The bill also includes language making it easier for independent cities in Louisville metro to annex territory, limiting Louisville mayors to two terms, and requiring the city’s Metro Council to approve legal settlements larger than $1 million.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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