Legislative Update, 2/20/22

Dear Friends,
This week, we reached the halfway point of the 2022 legislative session. This is a good moment to take a broad look at the session so far, reviewing what’s happened, and considering what may be still to come.  

Reaching the halfway point on the calendar doesn’t mean the legislature is halfway through passing bills. Fewer than 10 bills have become law so far, but dozens of others will certainly follow suit as the pace continues to pick up, and as the House and Senate begin hearing more of one another’s bills.
The legislature’s biggest issues – adopting a two-year budget for state government and redistricting – are both still in holding patterns, although for different reasons.

The Budget

The Kentucky House voted for its version of the Executive Branch budget on the session’s 12th day, weeks earlier than in past budget sessions.  Meanwhile, the spending plans for the Legislative and Judicial branches and the state Road Fund still await committee hearings.  
Republican House leaders say they expedited the executive branch budget this year so they could focus on tax reform.  This is worrisome for (at least) two reasons. Under the Republican majority, tax reform has meant “trickle-down” approaches that benefit corporations and the wealthy, while increasing the tax burden on everyday working Kentuckians.  

And transparency is another very real concern.
In 2018, the last time the legislature voted for major changes to the tax code, the majority party’s plan was made public and then approved by the General Assembly on the same day.  – a breathtaking and brazen move for such consequential policy change. 


The fate of redistricting rests currently in the courts, with arguments to be held early next month.  This week, Judge Wingate declined to issue a stay on the redistricting plan, but also declined to dismiss the case altogether.  The case centers on the new state House map – which I believe unfairly minimizes urban areas’ legislative voice – and the Congressional map.  The proposed Congressional map features what may be one of the country’s most oddly drawn districts, beginning at the Mississippi River and stretching along much of the Tennessee border before snaking up to include our state capital.             

New Laws

Among this session’s new laws, one sets aside $200 million for communities affected by December’s deadly tornadoes, while two others are pandemic related. Of these, one recognizes the essential caregiving roles of family or close friends for patients in long-term care, and guarantees these caregivers the ability to spend time inside facilities while pandemic rules are still in place.  The other increases some flexibility for schools to provide remote instruction during the pandemic.    

House Bills on the Move

The House has passed several positive bills and referred them to the Senate. I’ve highlighted several of these in past updates.  The latest to join this category is House Bill 174, which would extend Medicaid’s postpartum coverage for new mothers for up to a year. HB174 is part of the Kentucky House Democratic Women’s Caucus’s Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health Project, a slate of proposals designed to improve Kentucky’s abysmal outcomes for infants, children, and pregnant people.  While the US ranks last among wealthy nations in these areas, Kentucky’s outcomes are at or near the bottom nationally on multiple dimensions.  Lengthening Medicaid coverage for many new mothers is an important part of what needs to be a multi-pronged solution.  HB174 passed the House unanimously. 

House Bill 222 would add Kentucky to the list of 30 or so states with anti-SLAPP (“strategic lawsuit against public protection”) laws.  SLAPP occurs when a powerful person or organization frivolously uses the courts to silence critics.  Congratulations to Rep. Nima Kulkarni for her work on this legislation since 2019, and on its unanimous passage in the House! 

This week, the House also voted overwhelmingly for House Bill 250, providing $23 million for Kentucky State University – Kentucky’s only public Historically Black College and University –  to finish the fiscal year, and establishing a plan to put the university on stronger financial footing.

Other bills to clear the House in the last seven weeks include HB44 to add mental health as a valid reason for an excused absence in schools; HB56, which would provide $80,000 in-the-line-of-duty death benefits to families of first responders who die from COVID; HB317, which would make it easier for charitable organizations to help Kentuckians who cannot pay premiums or other payments to their health insurers; and HB127 to help break the cycle of homelessness to incarceration to involuntary hospitalization for more Kentuckians with severe mental illness.   

Some more problematic bills on the move include HB4, which would slash unemployment insurance payments, and HB63 that calls on all schools to have armed school resource officers by this summer or as soon as possible.  This one-size-fits-all bill undercuts local decision-making and puts a sizable unfunded mandate on school districts for an approach that is not supported by evidence to make schools safer, and increases the risk for Black students to become involved with the criminal justice system over school discipline issues. 

Several especially problematic bills have moved through the House Education Committee, including two that passed out of that committee this week.  HB23 cruelly and unjustifiably bars trans female students from participating on sports teams offered by their schools, and targets middle school students in particular. Another, HB51, would keep school districts from enforcing mask mandates – at a time when 112 out of 120 Kentucky counties are still in the red zone for COVID, and when schools are struggling to remain open due to COVID-related teacher and staff absences.  Ironically, HB51 passed out of the House Education less than six months after the General Assembly voted in special session to give school districts the authority to make decisions about mask requirements.


I’m incredibly grateful to the many District 35 voters who have reached out to advocate or thank me for a NO vote in committee on HB51 and HB23, and for your advocacy on so many other important issues before the General Assembly.  It’s still impossible to predict what will become law and what will have to wait another year in the handful of weeks the General Assembly has left, but what I know for sure is that your input is critical to the process.  

You can email me by responding to this message, or at my legislative email address: Lisa.Willner@lrc.ky.gov.  You can also call my Frankfort office at 502-564-8100, and the message line for legislators remains active throughout the legislative session: 800-372-7181. 

Be well,

Legislative Update, 2/13/2022

Dear Friends,

In my profession’s code of ethics, our first ethical principle is that “Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm.”  I wish the ethics code for Kentucky legislators included those same guidelines.  

Unfortunately, as the pace of the 2022 legislative session picks up, so does the appearance of  harmful bills.  

Harm to Kentucky workers

House Bill 4, one of the House majority’s top priorities for the 2022 session, would harm Kentucky workers by making significant changes to unemployment benefits for Kentuckians who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own.  Having spent a good portion of my time throughout much of 2020 and 2021 working with desperate constituents to try and assist them with unemployment insurance (UI) claims, as well as fighting for the re-opening of regional unemployment offices, this senseless attack on Kentucky’s fragile UI system hurts my heart and boggles my mind.   
Under HB4, there would be new barriers for accessing and keeping UI benefits, weeks of eligibility could be cut in half, and laid-off workers could be forced to accept lower-paying jobs including those outside their career areas. Additionally, the new rules would put federal UI dollars at risk.  HB4 lands particularly hard on women and non-white workers, as well as on people with disabilities and those who live in rural areas.  

I joined all of my Democratic colleagues and several rural Republican legislators in voting NO on this bill that is harmful to Kentucky’s working families.  After three hours of debate in which many of us implored our legislative colleagues to reject this terrible bill, the bill passed 57-37 and is now headed to the Senate.  
For more about HB4, check out this excellent analysis from the KY Center for Economic Policy


…more harmful bills are on the move.  HB23, a bill that discriminates against transgender female students, and HB51, a bill to ban mask requirements in public schools, are both posted to the House Education Committee, and could be voted on in committee as early as Tuesday.   

In better news…

Last year, I wrote to you about the House Democratic Women’s Caucus, which I am honored to chair, and our Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health Project. The project includes a slate of bills and resolutions to improve our state’s dismal maternal mortality and health statistics, address racial disparities, and improve outcomes for pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.  The Democratic women of the KY House have reintroduced a similar package of bills this year, and this week, HB174 passed unanimously out of the House Health and Family Services Committee. HB174 would extend Medicaid coverage to new mothers for up to a year postpartum for those at or below 185% of the federal poverty level.  This is an important victory for the health of mothers and infants.  I hope to be able to report soon that the bill has passed the House.  

New bills

HB464 – I was honored to work with one of my constituents who is an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, along with my predecessor – the Honorable Jim Wayne –  and Senator Morgan McGarvey to craft legislation that would remove the statute of limitations for civil claims in cases of childhood sexual assault or abuse.  The impact of childhood sexual abuse is lifelong, and the average age for adults abused as children to come forward about their abuse is 52.  Removing the statute of limitations is an important tool for survivors to be able to seek redress for the grave harms inflicted on them.  

With Kentucky ranked first in the nation for childhood sexual abuse, HB464 has already received bipartisan co-sponsorship, and is supported by the Kentucky Justice Association, the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, and several child advocacy groups. Thanks to WLKY news  for bringing public awareness to this important issue that affects far too many Kentucky children and adults.  

HB478 – Last week’s winter storms were an important reminder of the hardships that can face any of us during weather emergencies, and the particular challenges to financially insecure Kentuckians during times of extreme weather conditions.  This week, I filed HB478 to prevent utility shut-offs during periods of extreme cold or heat, and to require extended and written notice of utility shut-offs.   The bill was prompted by the direct experiences and needs of far too many vulnerable Kentuckians.  

To read and learn more about these and other bills, you can visit the Kentucky Legislative Record online.

Frankfort visitors

It was a treat to meet with several visitors to the People’s House this week, including fellow members of the Kentucky Psychological Association, gun safety advocates from Whitney/Strong and Sandy Hook Promise, the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention – KY Chapter, and members of the Kentucky Association for Psychology in the Schools (KAPS).  All of these groups were on-hand to advocate for legislation that would promote the safety and mental health of Kentuckians across the state.  I was deeply honored to be presented the Friend of KAPS Award for my legislative work to improve student mental health.


As always, I appreciate hearing your thoughts and concerns. Thanks to the many constituents and friends who’ve reached out to me this session.  You can email me by responding to this message, or at my legislative email address: Lisa.Willner@lrc.ky.gov.  You can also call my Frankfort office at 502-564-8100, and the message line for legislators remains active throughout the legislative session: 800-372-7181. 

Be well,

Legislative Update, 2/6/22

Snow Day 

The General Assembly had a shortened week, with a cancellation on Friday due to predicted snow and ice storms across the state.  I’m grateful that the storms here in Louisville weren’t as severe as predicted, and I hope that all of you were able to stay warm and safe. 

Bipartisan Bills

Nearly all of the bills that passed the House this week had broad bipartisan support.  HB317, for example, is a good bill to remove existing barriers for charitable organizations to assist Kentuckians with health insurance premiums.  It passed without opposition. 

HB56 and HB69, two pandemic-related bills, also passed with near-unanimous support.  HB56 would grant in-the-line-of-duty death benefits to families of first responder who died due to COVID. HB69 would extend a 2020 governor’s executive order that presumes COVID infections to be work-related for some frontline and essential workers. I support these bills, but neither goes far enough since both exclude teachers and other school workers.  As we continue to face a crisis point with school worker shortages, we should be doing all in our power to support and protect teachers, school workers, and their families.  

Controversial Legislation – Government Overreach? 

While little controversial legislation was taken up in the past week, there was one exception.  HB121, a bill to require a 15-minute public comment period at every school board meeting, faced objections and “no” votes from legislators on both sides of the political aisle, but ultimately passed the House.  

In light of widely-reported threats of violence and death against school board members related to COVID safety protocols and curriculum content, and with recent recommendations from Louisville Metro Police to temporarily suspend public comments at Jefferson County school board meetings for security concerns, I proposed an amendment to allow the comment period to be suspended when public safety is at risk. (I briefly explain my amendment in this video.)  Inexplicably, this commonsense amendment was deemed “unfriendly” by the bill’s sponsor, and was defeated along straight party lines.   

The bill itself had objectors on both sides of the aisle, from legislators who believe it is government overreach for state officials to dictate to locally elected school boards, and from those who thought the bill should grant flexibility when public safety is at risk.   

I find it troublingly ironic that the House passed this bill, yet legislative committee chairs routinely exclude or severely limit public comments in our own legislative committee meetings.  I filed HB376 to require the same public comment period in legislative committees that the House would now require of schools boards.  So far, HB376 has not been assigned to a committee.  

Mental Health Funding 

The House also voted unanimously for HB339 which would appropriate funds to cover inpatient psychiatric services in Eastern Kentucky.  Mental health services have been chronically underfunded for quite some time, and I supported the bill.  Meanwhile, I’m continuing to advocate for desperately-needed school mental health funding in the state budget, and I’m working with Western Kentucky legislators and executive branch officials to ensure that funding set aside for WKY tornado relief efforts includes funding for emerging mental health needs in that region.             

Quick Progress Report  

I’ve written previously about three bills I’ve worked on that have passed the House unanimously: HB44, a bill to allow excused absences for school mental health days; HB237 to support psychology internships and improve training for psychologists; and HB127 to remove treatment barriers for individuals with severe mental illness.  All three have now been posted to Senate Committees, making it to the next step toward passage through the legislative process.

To read these and other bills, you can visit the Kentucky Legislative Record online. 


As always, I appreciate hearing your thoughts and concerns. Thanks to the many constituents and friends who’ve reached out to me this session.  You can email me by responding to this message, or at my legislative email address: Lisa.Willner@lrc.ky.gov.  You can also call my Frankfort office at 502-564-8100, and the message line for legislators remains active throughout the legislative session: 800-372-7181. 

Be well,