Bill clears committee that would establish regulations for current, future donations raised by state
Downtown Mayfield on Nov. 18, 2022. Damage from the December 2021 tornado still dominates the view. (Photo by Julia Rendleman/Kentucky Lantern)
FRANKFORT — A House committee on Tuesday approved a Republican-backed bill that would charge the state officials overseeing millions in disaster donations with setting out regulations for how the donated funding can be applied for and used.
House Bill 257, sponsored by Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, would take the millions of dollars donated to the state’s two disaster relief funds — the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund and the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund — and put the money into a separate trust account.
Petrie, speaking before the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee which he chairs, said the bill language is an attempt to have the donated monies go “to the purposes for which those funds were solicited.”
“This would create a type of trust fund in which those type of solicited funds would go into, brings them on budget, so the General Assembly can appropriate,” Petrie said. “We’re going to appropriate those funds back out for the purposes that they were supposed to be used for in the first place.”
Any future donations raised by a governor, other state constitutional officers, legislators or members of the judicial branch would also go into this trust fund and be appropriated for the use that the donations were solicited for.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration and the Public Protection Cabinet have been under fire by Republicans for relief checks sent out of the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund that erroneously went to people not affected by the December 2021 tornado outbreak.
In responding to previous criticism, Beshear has said the two disaster relief funds were “an open book” and available for examination through open records requests.
The Public Protection Cabinet has already pledged the entirety of the $52 million raised in the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund for various purposes including paying for the funerals of disaster victims, rebuilding housing and meeting unmet needs of survivors.
As of Feb. 16, more than $24 million of the about $52 million in the Western Kentucky relief fund remained unspent but pledged for individual unmet needs and housing. As of Feb. 20, more than $8 million of the about $13 million raised in the Eastern Kentucky relief fund remained unspent, pledged for housing and additional relief payments.
Spokespersons for Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s Office and the Public Protection Cabinet said Petrie’s bill wasn’t necessary but that they didn’t oppose it.
Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, mentioned the criticized relief checks specifically when voting to advance Petrie’s bill. Living in one of the tornado-impacted counties, Dossett said he’s had people reach out to him who erroneously received relief checks.
“I have seen firsthand the use of the Team Western Kentucky funds, there within Christian County and also there within my home,” Dossett said. “I think it’s very important that we are able to have some transparency.”
Another Republican lawmaker from Christian County is also sponsoring a bill that would require the Public Protection Cabinet to present a report of how donated funds have been spent and the decision-makers behind how the funds were spent. That bill passed the state Senate last week.
Petrie’s bill, House Bill 257, would also require the Public Protection Cabinet to produce monthly reports to House and Senate committees on who is making donations to the established trust fund and how the donations are being spent.
This article was updated with statements from the Public Protection Cabinet and Governor Andy Beshear’s Office.
Correction: This article previously stated the GOP-controlled Kentucky legislature would have control over future disaster donations. According to Senate Bill 257, future donations would be accounted for based on the purpose the donations were solicited for.
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