Senator Johnnie Turner’s Legislative Update: COVID laws and SAFE funds

Published 3:01 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2022

After Week one of the 2022 Regular Session extended into last weekend, allowing for passage of time-sensitive legislation, Week two was an abbreviated week—only four days—ahead of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. This allows for a four-day weekend which greatly benefits members of the western Kentucky delegation who are eager to be home as efforts to rebuild continue.

On that note, in week two the General Assembly passed vital legislation pertaining to disaster relief for western Kentucky and ensuring in-person education is maintained for as many students as possible amid COVID-19 mitigation efforts in our schools.

Members of the western Kentucky delegation championed Senate Bill (SB) 5 and the remainder of the Senate signed on as co-sponsors, in a clear show of unity for western Kentucky. SB 25 returned to the Senate as the companion House Bill (HB) 5 extended and clarified COVID-19 provisions signed into law during the 2021 Special Session, which were set to expire on January 1.

HB5 provides western Kentucky communities devastated by the recent tornados with $200 million in general aid. The Western Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) fund will immediately allocate $45 million, with $15 million of the funds going specifically to temporary housing for displaced families. The remaining $30 million will assist with education needs, bringing a sense of normalcy and much needed stability to children’s lives.

Additionally, the General Assembly approved House Joint Resolution (HJR) 29, which extended the state of emergency declaration for western Kentucky. Lawmakers contend the governor did not need an extension to continue that state of emergency, but out of an abundance of caution, passed HJR 29 as yet another showing of the legislature’s commitment to western Kentucky.

SB 25 extends and clarifies COVID-19 provisions from the 2021 Special Session as it relates to schools. It also extends some of the more agreeable orders to allow for further mitigation of COVID-19.

The bill continues to prioritize in-person learning by providing each school with remote instruction days, as opposed to a district-wide allotment.

These non-traditional instruction (NTI) days may be used by the school in a variety of ways, to ensure the fewest students are impacted. In order to address staffing shortages, the bill also loosens regulations around state retirement benefits enabling schools to rehire previously retired staff.
SB 25 maintains legislative remedies first enacted in the 2021 Special Session’s SB 1, which initiates a more balanced approach to mitigating COVID-19 in schools. It is a result of the dedicated collaboration of lawmakers, as opposed to unilateral actions by the Governor.

We returned to Session on Tuesday (Jan, 18) with a full workload with the goal of continuing our work to make the commonwealth a better place to live, and to take care of our residents. We will continue our efforts until April 15th, when the Session ends.

Senator Johnnie Turner (R-Harlan) represents the 29th District, which includes Floyd, Harlan, Knott, and Letcher Counties. Senator Turner is vice-chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. He also serves as a member of the Senate Standing Committees on Transportation and Judiciary.