Senator Max Wise Holds Virtual Town Hall
By Eugenia Jones
Senator discusses upcoming legislative session.
Earlier this week, Kentucky’s 16th District State Senator Max Wise met at Kristina’s Kitchen in Whitley City for a virtual (Facebook) town hall meeting hosted by the McCreary County Chamber of Commerce. During the town hall, Senator Wise fielded questions via social media and discussed the upcoming legislative session which will gavel in on January 5. The town hall was conducted virtually due to COVID-19.
Senator Wise noted this year’s session will be a thirty day session dealing primarily with a budget for one year. Due to COVID-19, there will be no in-person meetings or gatherings in the Annex or Capitol, and Wise encouraged his constituents to follow the legislative session via KET.
‘I appreciate the opportunity to get out in my District and hear from my constituents and to provide transparency about the upcoming session,” Wise stated. “The top priority will be the state budget this legislative session. It will be unprecedented and challenging in the modern era to do a budget during a 30 day session. I believe we will try to limit the number of legislative bills for this session so our focus will remain on the budget.’
Normally, a two year budget is developed and passed during a sixty day session. However, due to COVID-19, legislators opted in last year’s session (sixty days) to pass only the first year of the two-year budget and delay development and passage of the second year’s budget until the upcoming session in January, 2021. Sessions routinely rotate from year to year with sixty day sessions held during even numbered years and thirty day sessions held in odd numbered years.
Senator Wise also clarified the process of passing a bill.
“It is important to remember that passage of any bill will not have an immediate impact,” Wise cautioned. “Any bill must follow the process and go through both chambers and then to the Governor’s office for his signature. If he doesn’t sign the bill, we do have a super majority in the House and Senate that will allow us to override his veto. However, a bill still wouldn’t go into effect until March or April.”
During the meeting, Senator Wise addressed several other issues of importance.
The Senator said there is a definite need to fix issues pertaining to unemployment benefits. He noted the difficulties faced by many of his constituents when they filed to receive unemployment benefits while unemployed due to COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns.
“We’ve got to fix this,” Wise observed. “We have to get help to families in need.”
Wise said many of his constituents have contacted him about perceived government overreach in regard to COVID-19 related shutdowns of businesses and in education.
Senator Wise admitted many legislators have been “frustrated” by some of the Governor’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic. While acknowledging the Governor’s unenviable position during the pandemic, Senator Wise noted there needs to be a lot of listening to all people when legislating and expressed his concern that there had not been enough listening thus far by the executive branch during the COVID-19 outbreak. Wise also said it is important to put party politics aside so people can work together.
Wise noted the need for open lines of communication before shutdowns are imposed by executive order. He expressed concern over the lack of notice given to restaurants and schools prior to their being ordered to shutdown.
Wise said he will soon be attending a legislative retreat pertaining to government overreach.
When asked how he would have differed from Governor Beshear in keeping businesses open while still ensuring public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Wise acknowledged the governors of all states are in unenviable positions. However, Wise said he would have begun by bringing people to the table to gather information and ideas. He would have formed a school reopening task force to plan for the reopening of schools. Wise expressed his feeling that schools in the Commonwealth worked hard and were prepared to reopen on time for the 2020/2021 school year only to “have the rug pulled out from under them.” If reopening had occurred on time, Wise observed students might have accumulated more days of in-person learning prior to the current spike in numbers of COVID-19 cases. He also noted restaurant owners should have been given the opportunity for input and been forewarned before being ordered to shutdown.
Additionally, Wise said he would have looked at different aspects of the pandemic before making decisions. In particular, Wise stressed how important it is to look at contact tracing to see how many cases actually originate in restaurants and churches. According to Wise, the data has been gathered, but legislators have yet to see it.
Wise noted inconsistencies in the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He pointed to the Commonwealth’s reliance on CDC guidelines. For example, Wise stated the CDC now says children should be in school; however, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has temporarily shutdown schools.
“You have to be consistent,” Wise said.
Magistrate Bobby Strunk asked if the Senator could help McCreary Countians who are currently unemployed due to the recent round of COVID-19 shutdowns. Strunk noted the shutdowns are even more hurtful now coming in November and December.
Wise said unemployed constituents may contact his office (502-564-8100). Information will be taken and passed to the Executive Branch to forward to the Labor Cabinet. Wise reinforced his commitment to addressing the unemployment issue in this session.
“I think we can look at the unemployment issue in session and provide some relief,” Wise stated.
State Representative Kenneth Upchurch answers a few
questions from “The Voice.”
By Eugenia Jones
What bill is top priority for the 2021 legislative session?
“Without a doubt our top priority will be crafting a responsible one-year budget based on an extremely uncertain revenue situation. It is also likely that we will have to reopen the current year’s budget to prioritize spending. Passing a budget is the one thing that the Kentucky General Assembly is constitutionally obligated to do. Since being given the majority in 2016, the budgets passed reflect our commitment to responsibly investing tax dollars. We want the people of Kentucky to work less for our government and more for themselves. We know our revenue situation will be bad, but we do not know how bad it truly goes. We may only have a slightly better idea when we go into session.”
You mentioned previous budgets passed since 2016 as being designed to responsibly invest tax dollars. Do you feel Kentucky would have been in worse shape had it not been for those previous budgets?
“Those investments were paying off before COVID-19. We came into 2020 with historically low unemployment rates, record economic investment, and were on track to shatter revenue records in March and April. Frankly, the foundation we laid is a major part of the reason our state has not experienced greater economic problems through this pandemic. Of course, another factor is the massive infusion of federal CARES and stimulus funds shepherded through by Leader McConnell, Congressman Rogers, and the rest of our congressional delegation.”
What is your responsibility as a leader during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“We want to keep Kentuckians healthy, and are following CDC guidelines, public health recommendations, and above all else – basic common sense. However, this virus is not the only challenge we face. We cannot afford to neglect our responsibilities. Kentuckians deserve leaders who can do more than one thing at a time.
What are your thoughts about the amount of authority granted to the Governor during a state of emergency?
“Without a doubt, the question I get the most from constituents and other citizens is about how much authority a governor has in a state of emergency, and what grants that power. The Governor is acting under authority given him by the legislature to deal with emergency situations. Of course, no one could have predicted that someone would abuse a statute created to help our state cope with a short-term emergency to lock out the legislative branch for almost ten months. While we are extremely disappointed in the Kentucky Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the Governor, it also provides us with some guidance as the House works on better defining emergency powers. As you know, several bills have already been filed to limit the powers granted to a Governor during a state of emergency. The final version we pass will likely include provisions from all of them, but we are working on that now.