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Budget, gambling among issues for lawmakers in 2nd part of session

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Lawmakers return to Frankfort on Tuesday, to begin the second part of the 2021 General Assembly with a state budget, gambling, and veto overrides among items to be addressed.

There are four budget bills under consideration, for the Executive Branch, Transportation Cabinet, Legislative Branch and Judicial Branch.

All four were passed as continuations of the current fiscal year.  The Senate did make minor changes in each, which required concurrence by the House.  They would not agree, and the Senate would not back down from their changes, so conference committees were named to begin the real work on crafting a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

This marked a change from previous years, where the House would spend a month or more to craft a complete budget, the Senate would then come up with their own version, the House would not agree to the changes made by the Senate, and conference committees would then be named.  This way, they were able to get the budget bills into the conference committees after just eight legislative days, instead of waiting for the waning days of the session.

Historical horse racing, which the Kentucky Supreme Court determined last September was not pari-mutuel wagering and therefore is not legal in Kentucky, may have new life as legislation will soon be filed to legalize it.

The high court denied a motion for rehearing in January, which essentially ended a decade long battle over the legality issue.  It also led to the temporary closing of the historical horse racing facility at Lexington’s Red Mile, a few days later.

This prompted Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, to announce he will file legislation Tuesday to allow historical horse racing.

“The bill, which I am pleased to say will be co-sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, will address the recent Kentucky Supreme Court decision on pari-mutuel wagering and ensure that historical horse racing facilities are able to continue operating, while employing Kentuckians, generating state tax revenue and strengthening our signature equine industry,” Schickel said.

The measure will be taken up on Thursday by the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee, of which Schickel serves as chairman.

In response to that, Richard Nelson of the Commonwealth Policy Center noted that the threat of tracks losing tens of millions in new infrastructure costs is real, as is the prospect of the state losing $21 million in tax revenue.  Still, he stated:

“State-sponsored gambling hurts people on a wide scale, especially the poor.  They're sold a bill of goods that promises them a way out of their poverty. But the path toward a better life doesn't come by pushing the button and being mesmerized by spinning wheels. The bells and whistles and even an occasional win are more likely to lead to more poverty. As much as casino interests talk about jobs and the economy, they certainly don't specialize in altruism and the well-being of players. They make money through people losing. 

“Maybe at this point the horse tracks have developed a sense of empathy toward those who've lost their money playing video slots. An estimated $2 billion was wagered on video slots at Kentucky's six casinos in 2019, and many of the players lost way more than they can afford.”

Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed six of the seven bills passed during the first eight days of the 2021 session:

--Senate Bill 1 would limit a Governor’s emergency executive orders to 30 days, unless an extension is approved by the General Assembly.

--SB 2, gives more legislative oversight of emergency administrative regulations.

--House Bill 1 allows any business, for-profit or not-for-profit organization, local government, association, or any school or school district, public, private, or religiously affiliated, to remain open and fully operational for in-person services so long as it adopts an operating plan that meets or exceeds all applicable guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or by the executive branch, whichever is least restrictive.

--HB 2 allows the Attorney General to proactively take legal action against abortion providers who violate state law, instead of having to wait for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to ask them for help.

--HB 3 eliminates the requirement that civil lawsuits against the state be heard in Franklin Circuit Court.

--HB 5 increases legislative oversight of executive branch agency reorganizations by the Governor.

While Congress requires a 2/3 vote to override the veto of a President, the General Assembly only needs a simple majority to override a Gubernatorial veto.

The only other legislation passed by lawmakers and sent to the Governor so far, was SB 9, the “Born Alive Bill,” requiring healthcare professionals to take appropriate steps and provide reasonable care for a born alive infant.  Beshear allowed this to become law without his signature.

Under the Kentucky Constitution, lawmakers have 22 more legislative days this year, and cannot meet beyond March 30.

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