As the year is coming to an end, State Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, is preparing to head to Frankfort to represent the 16th Senate District, which includes Russell County.
In preparation for the 2021 session, Wise is holding town hall meetings across the district to hear constituent concerns and give citizens an update on some of the top priorities going into the session.
Wise holds these town hall meetings each year before the Kentucky General Assembly gavels in, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant number of people attended the town hall, sitting socially distanced inside the auditorium while wearing masks.
Wise touched on a number of topics during the town hall, which lasted roughly an hour. Below is a look at some of the topics Wise spoke on.
On returning to in-person education
“I’ve been very vocal to get kids back into school and to be in-person. I believe I speak for many parents and educators and others who want to see their children back in school, but in a safe environment,” Wise said. “I say that as a dad of four kids. I’ve got a senior, a freshman, a seventh grader and a fourth grader. I’ve seen in-person, virtual, hybrid, I’ve seen it all. What works best for my kids might not be what works best for other children, but I’ve seen my children struggle through this and I’m hoping with the Governor’s announcement yesterday, we can begin to get back in-person.”
Wise added that he wants to see a safe return to in-person education, which he said involves accommodating the needs of students, teachers, and other school personnel who do not feel safe returning to a school building.
Unemployment insurance concerns remain a major problem for many people in the commonwealth and in the senate district. Since the onset of the pandemic in March, Wise said a legislative aide researched the number of phone calls to his office about unemployment assistance. He said his office alone had fielded 1,120 calls from constituents.
“That is a problem, that is a mistake, and it’s absolutely uncalled for that we in 2020 cannot get the assistance to people that need it,” Wise said.
Unemployment is a complex system, with both the federal government and state government involved. At the state level, unemployment is handled by the executive branch.
Wise said changes need to be made to the system at the state level.
“We have got to change unemployment with the way the system is,” Wise said. “I know it’s very archaic, it should’ve been worked on a long time ago. I thank the people at the Lake Cumberland Area Development District for the work they’re doing and I know they’ve been exhausted and overextended. It has to be fixed though, and if it needs to be done legislatively, then we’ll do that.”
On changes to executive power in a state of emergency
Wise said he thinks some changes need to be made to how long executive powers are permitted during a state of emergency. This comes as a response to a state of emergency being declared in March in Kentucky due to the COVID-19 pandemic which extends powers of the executive branch of state government to make decisions and implement executive orders.
“The working relationship between the legislative branch and the executive branch is nonexistent right now, it’s zero,” Wise said.
Wise said he’s not been pleased with the level of communication between Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and the legislative leadership in the Kentucky House of Representatives and Kentucky Senate.
“This has got to change, the tone has got to change, and it depends on all of us working together in the pandemic,” Wise said.
The legislature is expected to take up a bill that would allow the legislature to gavel themselves in during a state of emergency to make decisions.
Wise said the timeframe is still up for deliberation, but it could be 30 or 45 days, he said.
“We need the ability to gavel ourselves back in because we represent you, we represent the people,” Wise said.
Although he has disagreed with some of the decisions made by Beshear, Wise said he certainly doesn’t envy Beshear who has had to govern the state during a difficult time.
“I don’t envy the governor, nobody does,” Wise said. “Nobody envies all 50 governors across the country for what they’ve had to deal with.”
On tax reform
Wise said he wants to see significant tax reform take place in the state, pointing toward the Tennessee model where there is no state income tax but a higher sales tax (9.5 percent in Tennessee versus 6 percent in Kentucky).
“That’s the model I’ve thought would be best for Kentucky to move forward to,” Wise said.
On medical marijuana
Wise said he doesn’t know how much priority will be placed on medical marijuana in the upcoming legislative session, but said he doesn’t have a firm grasp on the issue as to whether he would vote yes or no.
“As someone who has a son who is a stage four cancer survivor, I’d do anything for my child and with us not knowing the long-term effects of COVID-19, I’ll just say that I’ll keep an open mind on things and we’ll see what the House does with medical marijuana.”
On sports gambling
Wise said the sports gambling bill will be brought up in the House and said he has a couple concerns about the issue.
The first issue, he said, is that he believes if a poll was conducted in the senate district about opinions on any kind of gambling, the majority would be against it.
“Any type of gaming issue wouldn’t play well with a lot of people in my district,” Wise said.
Secondly, Wise said, he wants to make sure that revenue generated from sports gambling goes back to the state and not “into the purses of the horse industry.”
“I like the horse industry, don’t get me wrong,” Wise said. “I think it’s great for the derby and great for Kentucky, but if the state needs revenue, let’s not put it right back into the horse racing industry. Let’s put revenue into pension programs and things like that.”
On no-knock warrants
Legislation has been pre-filed that would eliminate a lot of no-knock warrants in Kentucky in the wake of the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville in the spring.
Wise said the legislature wants to make sure they’re not overstepping too far into local policing, but feel like this is an area that needs to be looked at.
“No-knock warrants will likely be looked at as part of some other possible criminal justice reform measures,” Wise said.