Legislators opened the 2023 special session Wednesday afternoon and immediately filed eastern Kentucky storm relief bills as House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) explained that the Senate would use what he called a “rarely used opportunity” to pass the bill within three days.
The identical bills appropriate $212.7 million for cities, counties, nonprofits, public utilities, state agencies, and school districts within the 13 counties President Joe Biden declared federal disaster areas. “Our cities and counties are hurting in the worst way,” Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said. “Our collective, nonpartisan effort today is the initial step to bolster local city and county government services impacted by the flood disaster.”
The state will pull $200 million from the Budget Reserve Trust Fund, which currently has $2.7 billion, for eastern Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (EKSAFE). “For the first time in history, we have the resources available in our budget reserve trust fund to commit to EKSAFE,” stated Speaker of the House David Osborne (R-Prospect).
Another $12.7 million will come from the state’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) State Fiscal Recovery Fund.
The bills distribute the money as follows:
- $115 million to emergency management for cities and other local governments and organizations.
- $45 million to the Transportation Cabinet for bridge and road replacement.
- $40 million to the Department of Education for school financial assistance.
- $12.7 million for water and sewer projects, to replace school facilities, and to help establish housing sites.
The bills also waive 15 student attendance days for flood-damaged schools and increase Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) money for both eastern Kentucky areas and those in western Kentucky impacted by storms and tornadoes in December.
Governor Andy Beshear and legislative leadership stressed that the bills would only provide aid for the next six months; legislators will consider additional funding when the 2023 session convenes in January. “This is just the beginning,” Thayer stated on the Senate floor. “We will be back here in January when we have an even greater understanding of the damage.”
Eligible expenses must support disaster recovery. Those include replacing and renovating damaged buildings; reimbursement for services, personnel, and equipment; costs related to planning for the rebuilding and recovery; disaster recovery and relief needs of local schools, which includes financial support for districts that defaulted on bond payments; and for contract employees who will administer and report on the funds.
The proposed legislation also amends the Western Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (WKSAFE) bill passed in the 2022 session to make funding available through June 30, 2026 ‒ three years longer than initially approved.
“This is a testament to what everybody does when something like this happens in the state of Kentucky,” Stivers said. “You come together to make sure your friends, your neighbors, and your families are taken care of.”
To pass the bill in three days, Thayer explained that legislators would pass each chamber’s respective bill by Friday. The Senate will then use a provision of its rules to substitute language from an identical bill to give House Bill 1 final passage on Friday.