(The Center Square) – The Kentucky General Assembly kicked off its 2022 session Tuesday as lawmakers in the House and Senate gathered in Frankfort to start the 60-day session.
Republicans, firmly control both chambers, will start the session seeking to quickly approve newly redrawn districts for the state’s legislative and congressional seats. The deadline to file for the 2022 election is Friday, but lawmakers are looking to push that back by a couple of weeks to accommodate the changes.
That will likely mean a Saturday session this week to get those bills to Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, as soon as possible. However, Beshear has expressed some reservations about the GOP’s plans, saying he needs to see the precinct-level data before commenting.
“I want to see more before ultimately making a final decision,” he said. “I want to make sure that they are fair and that with 75 members already from one party, they weren’t drawn in a way to, let’s say, intentionally try to move to an even larger majority than that as opposed to create proper districts.”
Beshear and the Republican legislative leaders have mostly been at loggerheads since he took office two years ago. Much of that disagreement is based on the policies the governor enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last August, the state’s Supreme Court upheld new laws passed by the legislature to curb a governor’s executive powers during an emergency.
Like much of the country, the new General Assembly session comes as the state finds itself in the throes of the COVID-19 omicron variant. On Monday, Beshear announced the state’s positivity rate of 20.72% was the highest reported in Kentucky. The 6,441 cases reported last Thursday were also a one-day record.
With school districts restarting classes after the holiday this week, Beshear said he would like for lawmakers to give him the power to implement mask mandates for schools. But he added he knew that was not going to happen.
In an interview Sunday on WKYT’s Kentucky Newsmakers, Republican Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said “there’s a lot of exhaustion” among the public after dealing with the coronavirus for nearly two full years.
Thayer described himself as pro-vaccine but anti-vaccine mandate and also a “mask skeptic.”
“I just wish we could get back to normal and respect everybody’s personal decision as to how they deal with the virus,” said Thayer. “I just got my booster, and I’m happy to have done it, but I’m not going to force anybody else to do the same.”
Once lawmakers pass the new legislative maps, the focus will turn on the two-year budget the General Assembly is tasked with passing during the 60-day, even-year sessions.
Key topics of discussion within the budget will be how to allocate federal COVID-19 relief and infrastructure funding. There will also be discussions regarding bonus payments for essential workers and potential pay raises for state employees.
Tax reform may come up as well. While some lawmakers have visions of implementing a Tennessee-style tax system, which would do away with the income tax and increase the sales tax, the more likely reforms considered would be styled after Indiana, where the income tax is lower (3% to Kentucky’s 5%). However, the sales tax (7% to Kentucky’s 6%) is higher.
The session is scheduled to end on April 14.