Beshear calls special session to take up flood relief
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear announced Tuesday that he’s calling Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature into a special session to take up a relief package for flood-ravaged eastern Kentucky.
The special session will begin Wednesday and is expected to last three days. Lawmakers and Beshear’s administration have been discussing assistance options ever since floodwaters engulfed parts of the state’s Appalachian region late last month.
“Throughout these weeks, they have been productive conversations, not bipartisan — nonpartisan — about how we help these communities and ensure our counties and cities don’t go bankrupt and our utilities don’t have to raise rates on families already hurting, just to repair and replace necessary infrastructure,” the governor said in a video announcing his decision.
Both the House and Senate are scheduled to convene at 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday.
Historic flooding inundated parts of eastern Kentucky in late July. Surging floodwaters destroyed homes and businesses and caused significant damage to roads, bridges and water systems. The disaster caused at least 39 deaths, while thousands of families “lost everything,” the governor said.
Neither the governor nor legislative leaders offered specifics Tuesday about the size of the relief package to be presented to lawmakers, but they provided glimpses of the package’s breadth.
“The General Assembly is prepared to provide aid to schools, cities, counties and other local government agencies as we repair what we can and rebuild what our communities need,” Senate President Robert Stivers said in a news release.
State funds will provide financial support while recipients await reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the release from Senate leadership said. Any state funds made available must qualify for reimbursement from FEMA, the release said.
House Speaker David Osborne said that after weeks of “rescue and recovery” in the flood-devastated region, it’s “time to move forward and begin rebuilding.”
Beshear has spotlighted FEMA’s response in the stricken region. Last week, the governor pointed to signs of progress as the federal agency responds to requests for assistance, but stressed it was “still not enough” as people try to recover from the disaster.
“We are pushing FEMA harder than they have ever been pushed before to respond and help our people,” Beshear said Tuesday in his video.
The governor acknowledged that even “more is needed,” resulting in the special legislative session.
It comes as the state’s Budget Reserve Trust Fund has continued to grow, surging well past $2 billion after historic surpluses were stockpiled over the past two fiscal years.
It’s the second time within a year that Kentucky lawmakers have taken up emergency relief stemming from weather disasters. Earlier this year, the legislature passed a $200 million package for portions of western Kentucky devastated by tornadoes last December.
“As we did for western Kentucky, we have cast politics aside and will address the immediate needs of those who have endured so much,” Stivers said Tuesday, referring to the relief package to be taken up for eastern Kentucky.
Republicans hold supermajorities in both legislative chambers in Kentucky.
Lawmakers were able to deal with western Kentucky tornado assistance during their regular session in 2022, since the tornadoes hit just weeks before the session began.
This time, lawmakers couldn’t wait for the regular 2023 session — still more than four months away — to begin funneling state aid to eastern Kentucky.
The House Democratic leadership team — Reps. Joni Jenkins, Derrick Graham and Angie Hatton — said Tuesday that the rebuilding process “will be measured in years, not months,” with the goal of making the region even stronger.
Lawmakers are expected to take up the issue of flood relief again during next year’s regular session, when they’ll have a better understanding of the disaster’s long-term ramifications.
“To the people of eastern Kentucky, we are with you now, we’ll be with you tomorrow, next week, next month and next year, as long as it takes to rebuild,” Beshear said.