Legislative Update, 1/26/2019

Week 2 of the 3-week recess was this past week and, legislatively speaking, was a quiet one for me.

I’m working on a tax re-structuring bill that would serve a two-fold purpose: 1) make taxation fairer with fewer loopholes and tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthiest Kentuckians, and 2) significantly increase tax revenue for much-needed public investment in education, health and mental health, etc. I took some time to consult with economic experts as well as grassroots advocates who see the direct adverse effects of our current upside-down tax structure.

I will continue working on that bill during the week ahead with the goal of having legislation ready to file once we are back in session.

As always, I want to make myself as available to you as possible, and to keep you informed of my activities. Here are some upcoming events I will be attending during the week ahead:

January 28 6:00 Community Noise Forum, Louisville International Airport Authority Since airport noise is such a quality of life issue for many of us in the 35th district, I make an effort to attend these meetings as regularly as possible. Meetings are open to the public and all are welcome.

January 30 Legislative Town Hall 6:00-7:00, Louisville Free Public Library, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch. Join Rep. Mary Lou MarzianState Senator Morgan Mcgarvey, and me for a legislative preview. We will discuss public pensions, the school safety bills, hear your concerns, and answer your questions.

Recorded a KET Town Hall with host Renee Shaw, that will air in February. I will be one of several panelists discussing SB1 and HB1, the twin school safety bills that are top priority legislation for House and Senate leadership this session.

In addition, I’ve been really gratified to see how quickly my Frankfort schedule is filling up with appointments from a variety of constituents interested in discussing a vast range of issues. The best part of the job is the opportunity to hear from and meet directly with you, and to learn more about the issues you care about.

Your presence and your voice are critical to the Democratic process.

The General Assembly will return on Tuesday, Feb. 5th, to complete the remaining 26 working days of this year’s legislative session.

Legislative Update, 1/19/2019

This was Week 1 of a 3-week recess, but very busy nonetheless! I’ve had a number of meetings, both in Louisville and in Frankfort, to get to know constituents and a variety of their priorities and concerns, as well as with legislators and community advocates to work on legislation.

Two of the issues I’m actively working on are bills that would improve safety for children and youth.

One is a bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Riley, a rural Republican legislator and a retired educator, that would ban the harmful practice of corporal punishment in our public schools. While many individual districts have banned the practice at the local level, Kentucky is still in the minority of states in the country that allow it. I’ve had some productive conversations with Rep. Riley, as well as with an outstanding group of high school student advocates who’ve been working on this initiative since they were middle schoolers. I’m very happy to work with one of the group’s leaders, St. X freshmen Alex Young, on this project. I actually met Alex while going door-to-door in the 35th district during the campaign, and it’s exciting to be working with him to increase student safety in all Kentucky schools!

Another bill that I’m working on would ban the discredited and dangerous practice of so-called “conversion therapy” on minors. The rate of suicide and suicide attempts for LGBTQ youth exposed to the practice is staggering. My former State Rep. Jim Wayne filed a similar bill last session, and – as the only mental health professional serving in the Kentucky legislature – I’m grateful for the opportunity to carry on his good work to protect young people from this abusive treatment. (If you have a chance to see the recent film “Boy Erased,” I highly recommend it. Bring tissues.)

Speaking of safety, SB1 and HB1 are identical bills focused on comprehensive school safety, and a clear indication that school safety is the #1 priority for both the House and the Senate this session. The majority leadership in both chambers have made a good faith effort to craft a bill that would have bipartisan support, and have worked with stakeholders across the state. There are many positive aspects to the bill, including additional social and emotional supports for students and school staff, and adding school safety coordinators to school districts. The Trauma-Informed Schools Bill – HB 604 (2018) – that I co-authored last session is included in the bill.

The major reservation that I have about SB1 and HB1 is a requirement for every school to employ a law enforcement officer. While there are many schools and parents across the state who want that, I’ve already heard from many parents in my district who have concerns about policing in schools. (I’ve suggested that an easy fix may be to give SBDM Councils the authority to make that decision for their school at the most local level.) HB 1 has been assigned to the House Education Committee, where I will have an opportunity to weigh in, so please let me hear from you!

HB1 and SB 1 are just starting to move, but two other education-related bills – SB 3 and SB 8 – are already halfway to the Governor’s desk after clearing the Senate in just four days. Both bills are problematic.

Senate Bill 3 would weaken governance at the most local level, the Site-Based Decision Making Councils (SBDMs), by giving superintendents the councils’ authority to hire principals. This appears to be a solution in search of a problem, since SBDMs have worked well since they were first adopted as part of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990. A change to SBDMs that would be well worth considering would be the addition of a seat for classified school staff, since that is an important voice that too-often goes unheard.

Senate Bill 8 would change the tribunal system, the process for teachers to appeal dismissals. I believe the tribunal process could be improved, but I also believe that good policy comes out of authentic grassroots engagement with the people most affected. In the case of SB 8, teachers were excluded from the conversation as the policy was developed, and I have a concern that the bill may undermine due process.

Another major education bill expected to be filed this legislative session would establish a funding source for charter schools, which were authorized in 2017 but are in limbo until state financing is established.

At a time when the state can only afford about a dime extra per day for each student – and not even an extra penny for textbooks or teacher training – we cannot afford to remove any money from our public schools. Given the problems associated with charter schools in other states, I believe we need to end this charter-school experiment before it takes root in Kentucky.

If those last few bills take public education in the wrong direction, two others I support would put our children on a much better path. House Bills 112 and 113, sponsored by fellow Jefferson County freshman State Representative Josie Raymond, would have Kentucky provide full–day kindergarten, and add public preschool for every 4-year old. Currently the state funds Kindergarten at only 50%, leaving the other half-day funding to be picked up by local school districts. There is currently only very limited funding for preschool, although the research is clear about the positive impact of good and developmentally appropriate early education.

On a different topic… last week I wrote about the “emergency” regulations that limited public access to the people’s State Capitol. We received word late yesterday that one of the restrictions has been reversed, and the public will be allowed to use the tunnel connecting the Capitol and Capitol Annex buildings, although gathering or demonstrating in the tunnel is still prohibited. This is a small but significant step in the right direction. I hope the public will continue to demand access to THEIR Capitol, and that we will see other restrictions reversed as well.

Your presence and your voice are critical to the Democratic process.

The General Assembly will return on Tuesday, Feb. 5th, to complete the remaining 26 working days of this year’s legislative session.

Legislative Update, 1/12/2019

What a week! I was deeply honored to be sworn in as the State Representative for the 35th district on the first day of the session, with both my mother, Eugenia Willner, and husband, John Scruton, as well as some dear friends in attendance. I will never forget that my election was made possible by the hard work and sacrifice of a wonderful team of supporters, and that I hold the seat in Frankfort because of the people of the 35th district. I will do my very best to represent you with integrity, and to be your voice in Frankfort.

In odd-number years, we have a short 30-day session. For many years, the conventional wisdom has been that nothing much happens during the short sessions, but two big events occurred this week that turn that thinking on its head, and that could have repercussions for many years to come.

The first issue centers on Representative Jim Glenn of Owensboro who won his election last November by a single vote. Despite Rep. Glenn’s election having been certified at both the local and state level, despite a re-canvassing of the votes yielding the same result, and despite the Representative having been sworn into office, his opponent has requested that the Kentucky House review the election’s outcome, and in an unprecedented move, the House established an Elections Review Committee to examine – and possibly overturn – the certified election results.

While the outcome was very close, I stand by the fundamental tenet of our democracy that the candidate who receives the most votes is the winner of the election. That should stand whether the win is by one vote or a thousand. Nevertheless – here we are, with a panel of nine randomly selected legislators reviewing the matter. I will be keeping a close eye on this situation.

To the second issue… with the session barely underway, legislators learned that Governor Bevin’s administration had begun implementing stringent and repressive new rules that severely limit public access within the Capitol complex, citing safety concerns as the rationale. Safety is important, but it appears to be more than a coincidence that these new restrictions follow on the heels of a 2018 legislative session that brought unprecedented numbers of peaceful protestors to the Capitol. Although these changes are coming from the executive branch, I will do all that I can to make sure that the People’s House is fully welcoming and open to the People.

On a happier note, I was excited to have my committee assignments confirmed this week. I will be serving on Education; Health & Family Services; and Veterans & Military Affairs and Public Protections – 3 committees very important to me, and to our district.

On the first day of the session I filed my first bill – HB 126 – that would bring much-needed transparency and accountability to the oversight of Kentucky’s public pensions. On day 2, the bill picked up over 20 co-sponsors, and Joe Sonka of Insider Louisville published a strong piece about it.

School safety is the top priority issue for leadership in both the House and Senate, and identical bills – HB1 and SB1 – have been filed. While I’m still working my way through some of the intricacies of these sweeping bills, I was very happy to see last year’s HB 604 included in its entirety. HB 604 (2018) is the “Trauma-Informed Schools Bill” that I co-authored along with Will Coursey, the former State Representative from Marshall County, in the wake of the tragic shooting that took place there last January. HB 604 had the support of a broad range of mental health, law enforcement, and educator groups, and passed the House with near-unanimous bipartisan support before stalling in the Senate. I’m happy to see it back again in 2019.

I’ve signed on as co-sponsor on a number of excellent bills, including State Representative Mary Lou Marzian‘s statewide Fairness bill, State Representative Attica Scott‘s bill to eliminate sales tax on feminine hygiene products, and Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo’s bill to strengthen protections against human trafficking. I also had the opportunity to work with Representative Jeff Donohue on an Airport Noise Mitigation bill.

My last bit of news from the week is that I was selected by my House colleagues to chair the Democratic Women’s Caucus, alongside State Representative McKenzie Cantrell who will serve as vice chair. This is a particularly exciting time for that, as we now have 18 Democratic women State Reps in the Kentucky House: 46% of the entire Democratic House delegation, and a decisive majority of the Jefferson County delegation. It is an honor and a privilege to get to work alongside this amazing group of intelligent, compassionate, energetic, and gutsy women.