Legislative update: The first week back

Published 4:58 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

By Sen. Donald Douglas

Guest Writer

As we convene the 2024 regular session, I would like first to wish you a happy new year. I hope your holidays were filled with joy and laughter while spending quality time with family and friends.

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The Senate convened for day one of the 2024 Legislative Session on Tuesday, January 2, with incredible renditions of our national anthem and “My Old Kentucky Home” by the 100th Army Band, Fort Knox.

Legislative sessions in even-numbered years are budget sessions, consisting of 60 legislative days, unlike the shorter 30-day session that occurs in odd-numbered years. Short session years are intended to evaluate previously enacted policies and address any necessary legislative clean-up. As outlined in the Constitution of Kentucky, the General Assembly must gavel into session on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in January and requires lawmakers to conclude legislative business on April 15.

The primary focus in the Senate on Week 1 was to pass this year’s Senate rules, officially confirm committee assignments, and introduce initial legislation. The only two items constitutionally required in this year’s legislative session by the General Assembly are to enact a new two-year state budget and road plan.

The Kentucky Constitution vests the exclusive power and duty to tax and spend the public’s money to the General Assembly. Our state constitution requires balanced spending with available financial resources, which is good. While the federal government can borrow and incur trillions of dollars in debt, this is not an option for our state government. The precious tax dollars you entrust to your government must be spent with care and discipline and that is my intent as your state senator.

The total amount of taxpayer funding for the next two-year budget and road plan will be based on what was recently set by the Consensus Forecasting Group. According to this group of economic experts’ best estimates, total general fund revenues—which result from sales, income and other taxes—are approximately $31.6 billion over the 2025-2026 biennium with road fund revenues resulting from gas and motor vehicle taxes are roughly $3.7 billion. The state budget provides for state government operations and essential government services, and the road plans provide for investments in our roads, bridges, and highways.

The state Senate will have the final crack at proposing a state budget and road plan. Our fingerprint will not be applied to the document until a proposal is passed out of the state House of Representatives. I will keep you updated throughout this critical process and will remain an advocate for our district.

On January 1, the second automatic reduction of our state income tax went into effect. House Bill (HB) 8 from the 2022 Legislative Session established the framework by which working Kentuckians’ income tax could be decreased responsibly. During the 2023 Legislative Session, the General Assembly passed HB 1 and codified the first two tax reductions after HB 8’s criteria were met. The January 1 income tax reduction lowers your income tax rate from 4.5 percent to 4 percent. By the end of 2024, HB 8 and the resulting individual income tax reductions will have resulted in approximately $1.8 billion being left in the pockets of taxpayers and consumers, providing you more of your own money to spend as you wish.

While the state budget and road plan will be our primary responsibility this session, there are many vital policy items to take care of. Each proposed measure, whether mundane or headline-worthy, will receive the debate and deliberation required by the legislative process.

Before concluding, I would like to share two key legislative priorities during this session. First, I would like to explore additional legislative measures to tackle Kentucky’s challenges in attracting and retaining highly skilled medical professionals. This is crucial as our state, like many others, faces a critical shortage of such professionals, impacting our ability to provide essential, lifesaving care.

Secondly, I’ve consistently heard concerns from constituents about the soaring costs of inbound care for elderly family members in their final stages of life. Therefore, I plan to study how other states have successfully reduced nursing home care costs. This could help Kentucky alleviate the financial burden on families caring for vulnerable seniors, ensuring they receive the dignified end-of-life care they deserve.

Feel free to share your thoughts throughout the session. Find the status of legislation by calling 866-840-2835, legislative meeting information at 800-633-9650, or leaving a message for lawmakers at 800-372-7181. You can watch and follow legislative activity at KET/org/legislature and Legislature.ky.gov.

It’s genuinely humbling to represent you in our commonwealth’s Capitol, and I want you to know that I will never stop fighting for the best interest of the 22nd Senate District. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if I or my staff can assist you by emailing me at Donald.Douglas@lrc.ky.gov or calling toll-free at 1-800-372-7181.

Senator Donald Douglas, M.D., R-Nicholasville, represents the 22nd Senate District, including Garrard and Jessamine Counties and a southwestern portion of Fayette County. Douglas serves as chair of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Human Resources. Additionally, Douglas serves as vice chair of Senate Health Services. Douglas is a member of the Senate standing committees on Appropriations and Revenue; Banking and Insurance; and Licensing and Occupations. Additionally, he is a member of the Government Contract Review Statutory Committee and the Legislative Oversight and Investigations Statutory Committee.