By Chris Harris, guest contributor
Tragically, due to the COVID-19 virus, tens of thousands of Kentuckians will likely lose their jobs and thousands of our small businesses – from manufacturing and restaurants to apparel shops, beauty salons and gyms – will suffer financial hardship, some total devastation. We, as members of Kentucky’s General Assembly, must do what we can to minimize their pain. This health crisis will impact us all, personally and financially. But if we are willing to work together, Democrats and Republicans, and act decisively, we can pass legislation that will help soften the blow to Kentucky workers and small businesses. We should start by passing legislation to:
- Suspend all home foreclosures and automobile repossessions, prohibit any late fees, penalties or interest until July 15.
- For those utilities which haven’t, suspend all utility disconnects (water, electricity, internet and gas) until July 15 and prohibit any late fees, penalties or interest.
- Identify and repeal recently passed corporate tax breaks and dedicate the funds realized to increased funding for our county health departments to help them during this crisis.
- Create an emergency fund accessible by Kentucky health departments to add/build temporary testing sites, should they be necessary, to prevent local hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients concerned they may have the COVID-19 virus.
- Repeal HB 2 passed in 2018, which made it difficult for coal miners suffering from black lung to be diagnosed. These sick miners are disproportionately vulnerable to a respiratory virus like COVID-19.
- Immediately suspend all legislative efforts to cut retirement benefits to our public employees, educators and school support personnel. This has been one of the most divisive issues our state has seen in many decades and now is not the time to further divide our fellow Kentuckians.
- Pass a joint resolution urging the federal government to focus significant resources toward working Americans, small businesses, and state and local governments. The federal relief package must be bold and concentrate on getting resources into the hands of low wage employees and small business owners who have been hit hard by the restrictions implemented as the result of COVID-19.
This list of suggestions is not a comprehensive list. In fact, last Thursday, March 19, the House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation to provide relief to local school districts throughout the state. There will be other excellent ideas and steps that we, as a General Assembly, can and should take to help our people and small businesses during this health crisis. If we have the political will, we can prioritize this relief and find ways to take these steps and more. Between the federal government reimbursements to states, prioritizing our spending, and repealing some of the corporate tax cuts doled out over the last four years, we can provide relief to countless Kentuckians who will need assistance.
Last Wednesday, March 18, on the House floor, I urged my colleagues to focus our attention on, and limit our time in the chamber to, passing a budget and addressing the emergency needs of Kentuckians and small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 virus.
We must set the bar for all of Kentucky when it comes to following recommended social distancing guidelines. Acting responsibly while embracing and fulfilling the leadership roles to which we have been elected can and must work hand in hand for our own health and safety, that of our families and every citizen of the Commonwealth.
The emergency efforts and appropriations I’m suggesting must not be partisan. Democrats and Republicans in our legislature must work together – in close coordination with Gov. Beshear, who has provided strong and steady leadership during this crisis, to do what is right by all Kentuckians.
We must show Kentucky we are prepared to do everything in our power to lessen the devastating health and economic impacts this virus will have on our commonwealth.
Together, we can safely care for each other and help rebuild the lives and businesses of our fellow Kentuckians, making our state better and stronger.
State Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, represents the 93rd House District.