Recovery ready communities bill headed to governor, business tax break clears House

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Legislation aimed at placing more resources into the hands of Kentuckians recovering from substance abuse is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

The Kentucky House voted Friday to concur with changes made by the Senate to HB 7. Sponsored by state Rep. Adam Bowling, R-Middlesboro, the bill would create the Advisory Council for Recovery Ready Communities which would develop a certification program and quality measures of the prevention, education, and recovery resources available in a community.

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“I want to thank my colleagues for supporting this important piece of legislation and getting it across the finish line,” Bowling said. “Kentucky has been hard hit by substance abuse, including the opioid epidemic. For people to overcome this disease, they must have community support and access to treatment and resources, no matter where they live. A centralized program for cities and counties means that no matter where you find yourself in the Commonwealth, you can access the care and treatment you need.”

The council would be comprised of representatives from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Pharmacists Association, a faith community organization, the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Association of Counties.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, and the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House would all have representation on the council.

“The composition of this council serves to highlight how important a comprehensive approach to combatting substance use disorder is,” Bowling added. “Substance use disorder is not only a public health issue, but also a workforce and economic development issue. It also plays a large role in our criminal justice system. It is important this council has input from a variety of stakeholders so that the certification program is meaningfully addressing the barriers to treatment options. Ultimately, we hope to encourage local communities to take inventory of the resources they currently offer and make adjustments to fit their individual needs.”

The legislation moves to the Governor’s desk.

In another measure, the House passed 86-12 a bill to provide temporary unemployment insurance tax relief to businesses struggling under the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“When COVID-19 hit Kentucky and businesses were forced to close, it became clear that the state’s unemployment insurance system was completely unprepared to handle the hundreds of thousands of claims that poured in. The unemployment insurance trust fund was depleted by summer and we were forced to borrow $865 million to continue paying benefits,” said state Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, the bill’s sponsor. “Employers made many sacrifices to keep employees and customers safe. Finding relief for employers facing massive tax increases is a top priority for the General Assembly.”

The average employer is expected to pay an additional $100 per employee in taxes for 2021. Moving from the lowest rate schedule to the highest rates will cost businesses $200 million more this year.

“Through no fault of their own, businesses are on the precipice and these tax increases mean the difference between staying in business and paying workers or closing for good, resulting in more workers laid off and less tax revenue for schools and unemployment benefits,” Webber added.

HB 413 requires unemployment benefits related to a state of emergency or disaster declaration be paid from the pooled account and not the employer’s personal reserve account.

The bill also provides businesses with breathing room by suspending the state mandated surcharge assessment for 2021 and 2022.

HB 413 will move to the Senate for consideration during the 2021 Regular Session.