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The Bottom Line: Top priority House bill to allow businesses and schools to remain open

By Jacqueline Pitts

On the second day of the 2021 session, the House State Government Committee passed legislation making multiple changes to deal with problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic including issues for businesses, parents of foster children, and more.

House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Bart Rowland, is titled AN ACT relating to Reopening the Economy in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in Response to the Governor’s State of Emergency and has four sections addressing several issues.

Section one of the bill provides clarity and reassurance to businesses, nonprofits, schools, religious institutions, and others that if they can come up with a plan to operate safely, they can remain open, Rowland said.

He added the bill calls for those institutions to have a comprehensive operating plan that complies with CDC guidelines and ensures the safety of staff and patrons. Those plans would be posted on the main door of the business and/or on their website, according to Rowland. Rowland also said the operating plans can be developed by an individual business or one that is developed and approved by the state Chamber or a local chamber or another organization.

Section two of the legislation would waive the penalties and interest on unemployment insurance tax bills and gives businesses flexibility on when and how they pay as those rates are expected to go up by around $100 per employee for businesses across Kentucky in 2021.

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Public Affairs Kate Shanks testified before the committee in support of the bill, stating the pandemic has been difficult for all Kentuckians and businesses have certainly been negatively impacted. Several businesses were forced to shut down through no fault of their own and have seen many increased costs and lower revenue already, Shanks added.

Unfortunately, she said all Kentucky businesses face a sizable tax increase in 2021 because of the state’s record-high unemployment, the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund being completely drained, and the state borrowing money from the federal government to pay claims.

Shanks said the bill addresses a timing issue to give flexibility to employers who have to choose between paying this tax increase or paying their employees. The increased costs will come due in the first quarter of 2021, while many are still struggling, and this could be the final straw forcing some to shut down without this solution, according to Shanks.

Section three of the bill reverses an executive order dealing with the parental visitation of biological parents of Kentucky’s foster children.

House President Pro Tempore David Meade said visitations should continue because many parents of foster children are in bad situations and have been unable to provide care. He stated a blanket suspension of face-to-face visitations is not acceptable and the provisions will ensure visits are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Section four of the bill addresses visitations at long-term care facilities and would allow for those visits, if done safely, to help those residents avoid isolation from friends and family.

House Bill 1 passed the House State Government Committee 14-5 and now moves to the full House for a vote.