By BRUCE SCHREINER and PIPER HUDSPETH BLACKBURN, Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers gave final passage Monday to a business-backed bill that would provide relief to employers on their unemployment insurance premiums.
The House voted 88-5 to send House Bill 144 to Governor Andy Beshear.
Another key part of the bill would spend $242 million in federal pandemic aid to replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. Like other states, Kentucky has been overwhelmed by record waves of jobless claims caused by the coronavirus.
The measure would allow employers to continue using the unemployment insurance premium rate set for 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The suspended rate would save Kentucky businesses an average of about $70 per employee, lawmakers said.
Republican Rep. Russell Webber, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the locked-in rate would give businesses “some breathing room” while trying to deal with other challenges, including rising inflation and issues. persistent in the supply chain.
Some lawmakers have criticized relieving employers while another bill would revamp unemployment benefit rules for laid-off Kentuckians.
The separate measure, which lawmakers sent to the governor last week, would increase job search requirements for people receiving unemployment benefits and tie the length of time recipients receive benefits to the unemployment rate. This provision could more than halve the number of weeks of benefits in times of low unemployment.
Legislation that would require Kentucky State University’s board of trustees to be replaced in early April also passed the House. The bill, which allows Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to appoint eight members to an all-new board, has been amended to extend the deadline from April 1 to April 4. The bill is now heading to the Senate.
Kentucky’s only historically black public university has been under state surveillance since last summer, when concerns over KSU’s financial well-being and lawsuits alleging misconduct by campus officials reached their climax.
Senate President Pro Tem David Givens said last week that a new board of trustees must “be in place and confirmed by the Senate” before the university receives the $23 million that officials have declared vital to the survival of the school.
Although the House passed a separate bill that would affect the funds, it has yet to get a vote in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the House passed a bill aimed at addressing the rising drug overdose death rate in the state. The measure would increase the penalty for importing or trafficking fentanyl or fentanyl derivatives. Under the bill, those convicted of these crimes would serve at least 85% of their sentence before being eligible for probation or parole, compared to a minimum of 50% served. The measure is headed for the Senate.
“With something this dangerous, there must be consequences for those who traffic these substances and put them in rural and urban areas of Kentucky,” said Republican Rep. Chris Fugate, lead sponsor of the project. law.
The rising number of overdose deaths in Kentucky is due to opioid abuse. A key factor is the prevalence of fentanyl – a powerful synthetic opioid increasingly added to other illicit drugs to boost potency.
Hudspeth Blackburn is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.
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