Groups urge Ky. lawmakers to pass budget, scrap controversy in face of COVID-19

Groups urge Ky. lawmakers to pass budget, scrap controversy in face of COVID-19

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Kentucky lawmakers will return to Frankfort in full Thursday for the first time in a week.

Legislators have been on a self-imposed break due to the coronavirus.

“The good news, we aren’t in Frankfort anymore,” Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey said in a Facebook video posted last Thursday. “The legislature wisely changed the legislative calendar. So, we wont be back again until next Thursday, March 26, and the following Wednesday, April 1.”

McGarvey said lawmakers will return for several days in mid-April to finish up legislative business if it is safe to do so.

This week, a conference committee did meet in Frankfort to continue work on the state budget, which the general assembly is legally required to passed.

“We are undoubtedly in the most unprecedented times that I think anybody has ever seen,” Senate President Robert Stivers said during a conference committee meeting.

Thursday, when the chambers made up of 100 representatives and 38 senators meet again under GOP leadership, a protest is planned to be going on by people social distancing in a caravan of cars outside.s

"People have been concerned about this process from the start because there's some controversial pieces of legislation," Ron Russell, an attorney planning on attending the protest, said.

Those from the Save Kentucky Democracy Coalition want lawmakers to pass bills related to the coronavirus and the budget and then go home.

Wednesday evening, the legislative committee agendas posted for Thursday included a number of other bills, some of which tackled controversial topics.

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Kentucky penned similar concerns writing an open letter to the general assembly asking lawmakers to focus on essential, non-controversial legislation:

The League of Women Voters of Kentucky calls on the Kentucky General Assembly to focus its efforts on legislation directly related to the state budget and the coronavirus pandemic. Non-essential and controversial legislation unrelated to these items should be avoided during this time when the public is barred from participating in deliberations.

The League’s mission is to promote the informed and active participation of citizens in government. That sort of participation cannot happen in the current circumstances. Citizens are unable to visit the Capitol to talk with legislators, testify before committees, participate in rallies, and make their voices fully heard.

Many citizens are also too consumed with daily survival to focus on what is happening in Frankfort.

This is not how democracy is supposed to work.

Neither the mission of the General Assembly to serve the people, nor that of the League to promote active citizen participation in our democracy, can be fulfilled under the current circumstances.

Russell called the move for lawmakers to meet hypocritical and dangerous as the illness continues to spread.

"Just pass the budget and go home," he said. "If they do that, they'll be saving lives in the process. If they don't do it, people will die."

House Democratic Caucus Leader Joni Jenkins, Caucus Chair Derrick Graham and Caucus Whip Angie Hatton released the following statement regarding concerns cited by the LWVK and others:

“We continue to encourage members to use their best judgment in determining whether or not to come to Frankfort, because bringing in legislators from across Kentucky goes against all advice given by the CDC, Governor Beshear and every health professional. We agree with the League of Women Voters and others who are imploring the General Assembly, if it stays in session, to work exclusively on passing a two-year budget and legislation that deals with the COVID 19 crisis and adjourn as soon as possible."

House leaders go on to state that some of the caucuses members may still show up in Frankfort:

“However, many from our caucus are traveling to the Capitol and risking our health because we fear what bills would be passed in committee and on the floor in our absence and without public input. Since session is moving ahead, we are doing everything we can to provide the space for our members to social distance themselves, with some sitting in the gallery and many staff working from home.”

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