Kentucky Chamber shares legislative hopes for 2021 session, provides insight on covid-19 relief
Pikeville, KY (December 10, 2020) - Pandemic relief and recovery were the main focuses of Kentucky Chamber President Ashli Watts during a virtual meeting hosted by the Southeast Kentucky Chamber on Thursday to discuss the state chamber’s priorities for the 2021 legislative session which kicks off in January.
Watts opened up Thursday’s meeting touching on covid-19 vaccines in Kentucky. She said she had spoken with Ky. Gov. Andy Beshear prior to the meeting and had been informed that all front-line health workers and first responders are scheduled to receive the vaccine by January, when EMT and EMS workers are expected to be vaccinated.
“66 percent of deaths in Kentucky have been in our long-term care facilities,” said Watts, noting that those facilities should be receiving the vaccine as early as December 15. She said the Kentucky Chamber is suggesting that those vaccines take place on site at the workplace.
From there, Watts transitioned to discuss the top priorities of the state chamber for the 2021 legislative session which, according to Watts, include: Infrastructure, covid-19 liability protections, modernization of the state’s unemployment insurance program, tax reform, substance use disorder and recovery, reform of the state’s criminal justice system, investing in education, focusing on childcare, and supporting Kentucky’s signature industries.
In terms of infrastructure, Watts said the Chamber is urging for a gas tax to help raise money to fix existing infrastructure as well as to provide for new infrastructure needs across the state.
“The gas tax is really a consumption-based tax where you can see the improvements,” said Watts. “We do not have enough money in our road fund to pay for our existing infrastructure, or to maintain [it].”
Watts said the tax will help to ensure the movement of expansion projects such as the Mountain Parkway expansion. She said she believes Gov. Beshear and the legislature are in support of the tax.
Covid-19-related liability protections for businesses was another hot topic for the chamber. Watts mentioned the notion of businesses facing litigation due to covid-19 contraction at their business. She said the federal bill relating to covid-19 liability protections has been “condensed quite a bit” to not include much protection for businesses but said the state chamber is promoting a bill that will allow for more protections on the state level.
“We want to make sure that as long as [businesses are] doing everything in their power to follow the law and keep people safe, we think there should be protection in that,” said Watts. “We have a strong sense that we will be able to approve this on the state level.”
When discussing unemployment insurance in Kentucky, Watts mentioned the $800 million federal loan Kentucky borrowed earlier in the year to replenish the unemployment system, due to the large number of -related claims, noting that the loan was necessary.
“How we pay that back is simply on the backs of employers,” she said, noting that employer stakes in unemployment will rise in 2021. “Know that we are really working on this and we are working on a solution to help everyone out.”
Watts ended her presentation by stating that anyone with questions, comments, or suggestions for the state Chamber should contact either their local chamber of commerce or the state chamber. For more information about the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, visit them online at www.kychamber.com. For more information about the Southeast Kentucky Chamber, visit them online at www.sekchamber.com, or call 606.432.5504.
The Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is located at 178 College Street, Pikeville, and serves more than 500 businesses in eight Eastern Kentucky Counties: Floyd, Johnson, Knott, Lawrence, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, and Pike. The Chamber’s mission is to be a resource for businesses in Southeast Kentucky that is committed to improving the regional economy.