Joined by both Republican and Democratic leaders, Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday signed bipartisan legislation expanding voting opportunities as well as appropriating more than $1 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Beshear said those funds would create more than 14,500 jobs and be used to expand broadband, build better schools, and invest in infrastructure, including clean drinking water.
House Bill 574 makes permanent some of the emergency features put in place for last year’s election by the Democratic governor and Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams. The bill allows for three days of early in-person voting, as well as voting supercenters — where any voter in the county can cast their ballot.
It also makes permanent the online portal to request absentee ballots and secure absentee ballot drop boxes.
“I firmly believe that we should be making it easier for Kentuckians to vote and participate in the democratic process,” said Gov. Beshear. “This new law represents important first steps to preserve and protect every individual’s right to make their voice heard.”
The bill also takes care of a major Republican priority, requiring county clerk offices to gradually switch to equipment that can process paper ballots and allows Adams to easily remove people from the voter rolls.
Adams said it helps ensure a more secure election process.
“While other states are caught up in partisan division, Kentucky is leading the nation in making it both easier to vote and harder to cheat,” said Secretary Adams.
Three other bills that will go into law deal with appropriating funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Currently, the state’s broadband infrastructure does not extend to every community, resulting in unequal opportunities among Kentuckians. House Bill 382 provides $50 million to the Broadband Deployment Fund to begin addressing unserved and underserved communities. That will be added to the $250 million allocated for broadband deployment under House Bill 320, which went into effect last week.
“At a minimum, $600 million will go toward broadband expansion. This investment is estimated to create over 10,000 direct and indirect jobs,” Beshear said.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers also lauded the bill.
“I want people to think of this — this bill will help us when you have the opportunity to meet somebody who comes to rural Kentucky and says, ‘I don’t want to be in the city anymore, but the one thing I want to know is, do I have broadband?’” Stivers said. “These bills can also help the underserved areas in the metropolitan portions of our state.”
House Bill 382 will also fund other vital initiatives, including full-day kindergarten. The bill also directs $575 million of the American Rescue Plan funds to the repayment of a federal unemployment insurance loan.
In another school-related piece of legislation, House Bill 556 will provide $127 million for school construction and $75 million for renovation costs for local vocational schools. It also includes $20 million of funding to rural hospitals. The bill is law with the exception of two line item vetoes, one requested by the General Assembly and one ensuring compliance with the American Rescue Plan Act.
Beshear also signed Senate Bill 36, which allocates $250 million in grant funds to provide crucial upgrades to water and sewer infrastructure in communities across the commonwealth. The Better Kentucky Recovery Fund will replace or lay new pipelines to provide clean drinking water and improve sanitary water systems, modernizing infrastructure without raising rates while creating 3,800 to 5,800 direct and indirect jobs.
Beshear pointed out that each of the bills required lawmakers to put politics aside.
“We consulted with one another, and everyone agreed the right thing to do right now is to capitalize on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in our people and our future,” he said.
Elected officials of both parties, including Senate President Robert Stivers, Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins and Secretary of State Michael Adams, joined Gov. Beshear in the Capitol Rotunda for today’s bill signings.
Stivers said, “To all the people involved in passing these bills, I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for what they’ve done. It truly does set the table for brighter days.”