Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Ohio County Monitor.
FRANKFORT, Ky. — With the first full month of interim joint committee meetings behind us, this week I want to share some insight we gained during the last few meetings. You may remember from previous updates that the legislature uses the time between sessions to gather information and prepare for the upcoming session. The interim also gives us a chance to look into state programs and agencies to make sure they are serving Kentuckians as they should be. The legislative branch is responsible for holding state government accountable to the taxpayers who fund it and the people it serves. While we will not convene again until January 5, we are already working on legislation that we will consider. Keep reading for just a few examples of what our interim joint committees looked at during the last week of June, check out the Legislative Record on the Legislative Research Commission’s website for a more detailed report.
Health and Welfare: Committee members heard from the Kentucky Hospital Association and other groups about how our hospitals and other health care providers have fared under the pandemic. The first thing they did was dispel the myth that hospitals were profiting from COVID. While some hospitals had COVID cases, all elective medical procedures were postponed, and hospitals were forced to lay off staff and cut budgets in order to remain open. Committee members also heard about the two field hospitals opened by the state to deal with COVID cases. The Kentucky National Guard built and operated one at the Louisville Fairgrounds, while the University of Kentucky contracted with an outside provider to open one on the university’s campus. Because the number of virus cases requiring hospitalization never reached capacity, neither hospital treated a single patient. Legislators also discussed how telehealth expanded during the shutdown. The expansion of telehealth allowed health care providers to treat patients over the phone, increasing access and limiting the risk of exposure. We have talked a great deal about telehealth over the past 20 years and I have heard a lot of positive comments from health care providers and patients over the past few weeks. It will not work in every situation but may provide a powerful tool in some.
State Government: Contact Tracing was the hot topic for this month’s Interim Joint Committee on State Government. In public health, contact tracing is the process of identifying people who may have come into “contact” with an infected person and the collection of further information about these contacts. As you can imagine, privacy is a significant concern as we learn more about how the state will expand existing contact tracing abilities to deal with COVID. Committee members were briefed by the Department of Public Health, who shared that most local health departments already have a disease investigator and contract tracers on staff that have tracked the spread of other communicable diseases for several years. According to DPH, privacy protections are built into the system and patient identity will not be disclosed to the contact who may have been exposed. For example, I might be notified that someone I have seen in person tested positive, but I would not be told where that contact took place or who that person was. There is the potential to involve local police and sheriff’s departments to enforce self-quarantine requirements placed on those exposed. Public Health shared that the Governor has already allocated $10 million in federal COVID-relief funds to reimburse local health departments for contact tracing.
Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection: Members of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection heard testimony concerning government overreach during the COVID-19 outbreak from the Beshear Administration with relation to religious entities. The Commonwealth Policy Center testified about religious freedom. In the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the center advised churches to heed the leadership of the Governor and public health experts, promoting cooperation by doing their part in slowing the spread of the virus. However, since the beginning of the virus spread, the center feels that there have been serious inconsistencies in government policy and unequal treatment toward churches. It was difficult for all of us to hear the executive order deeming churches nonessential when the Governor deemed grocery stores, home improvement centers, liquor stores, and abortion clinics as essential. Religious freedom is fundamental to who we are as a people. It is guaranteed in both the state and federal constitutions. Kentucky was one of only ten states that banned all in-person worship services.
I hope you know that I always welcome your comments and concerns on any issues impacting our Commonwealth, even while we are not in session. As always, I can be reached at home anytime or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at [email protected]. You can also keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov.