Legislative Update 3/19/2023

Hello friends,
What a sad week in Frankfort, for people all across Kentucky, and for democracy.   The Marc Murphy cartoon above sums it all up pretty well.

In what the Fairness Campaign’s Chris Hartman accurately called “an 11th hour cheap trick,” the Kentucky legislature presented and passed a last-minute amended version of Senate Bill 150. The original SB150 was arguably the least horrible of a series of horrible anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed this session.  The version the legislature passed on Thursday, however, is now a Frankenstein’s monster of a bill that is an anti-trans, anti-education, anti-mental health, anti-medical science, and anti-economic development bill all rolled into one.

In the dirtiest of dirty tricks, the revised bill was voted on in a last-minute unscheduled meeting of the House Education Committee.  Fellow Democratic members of that committee and I received no notice of the meeting, and found out about it accidentally and indirectly, making it clear that we – and all the people we represent – were meant to be excluded.  (I was literally running to the committee room as the roll was called, and got there in time to shout “here” from just outside the committee room. A motion was made and seconded to approve the bill before the presenters said a word, and my and others’ questions to try and clarify what was in the version of the bill that we’d had no time to review were responded to dismissively.)

It’s remarkable that with the majority party holding 80% of seats in the Kentucky House, they could still only pass this wretched bill by using dishonest tactics and flouting agreed-upon norms and the rules of open government.

Senate Bill 150’s final version aligns Kentucky with states like South Dakota, Tennessee and Florida that have sought to erase trans kids entirely while undermining others in the LGBTQ+ community.  Advocates for mental health, public schools, civil liberties, healthcare, and LGBTQ+ rights have called SB 150 the “most extreme anti-LGBTQ+ bill in the country.”

The bill would ban puberty blockers and other gender-affirming care; add significant liability risks for healthcare providers; erode student confidentiality; prohibit gender-affirming care by licensed mental health professionals working in school settings; allow schools to ignore a student’s preferred pronouns; ban sex education prior to middle school; prohibit health education for every grade level that includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression; create an “opt-in” for sex ed at all grade levels.  And the bill includes language aligned with North Carolina’s misguided and notorious “so-called bathroom bill [that] sparked a nationwide backlash that wreaked havoc on the state, causing far-reaching political and economic damage,” according to NBC News.

While Kentucky faces a critical teacher shortage, the bill creates new challenges and uncertainty for educators.  While we face a mental health crisis, particularly for young people, this legislation interferes with mental health services in schools and exacerbates the significant mental health risks already facing our kids, especially trans kids who are already at high risk for suicide. With Kentucky at the bottom of many health rankings, and with healthcare providers in too-short supply, the bill inserts politicians into private healthcare decisions and criminalizes the practice of medicine.  While the majority party has gutted Kentucky’s most reliable revenue source by adopting discredited tax policies, this bill puts Kentucky at even greater economic risk.

Every major medical and mental health association opposes this legislation.  Teacher and education groups oppose this legislation.  Leaders in the business community oppose this legislation.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled organizations pushing this agenda as hate groups.  As I said on the House floor when we debated an earlier version of this bill (HB470), “We are making public policy that affects every Kentuckian based on the agenda of known hate groups. That’s not just wrong, it’s downright terrifying.”

While the General Assembly dedicated a massive chunk of time to the proposals in Senate Bill 150, we somehow could not find a fraction of that same energy to address Kentucky’s number one ranking in child abuse or to mitigate maternal and infant mortality rates that are among the worst in the country.

Demonstrating compassion and political courage that is all-too-rare in Frankfort, Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass issued a statement on Friday: “The Kentucky legislature is following a terrifying, but sadly well-trodden path. In the long run, history does not reflect well on such regimes. And in the short-run, we should all be concerned about who will be their next target.”  Dr. Glass ended his statement on a hopeful note, announcing that the Kentucky Department of Education will host a summit in support of LGBTQIA+ people and youth later this year. “Our focus will be on resilience, connection and hope,” he said.

I take heart from his closing words.  As we continue the battle for civil rights, for reason, and for fundamental human dignity, my hope for those of us on the right side of history is that we remain resilient, build on our connections, and spread hope that, in the end, love will win.

For now, if you or someone you know is struggling, please call or text the national mental health crisis hotline at 988, or visit The Trevor Project‘s help line.  
Contact me…

As always, thank you to those who’ve contacted me throughout the legislative session.  We are on a veto recess now, and will be back to finish up this year’s brutal session on March 29 and 30.

To reach me, you can respond directly to this message, and my official Frankfort email is Lisa.Willner@lrc.ky.gov.  The phone number to leave messages for me or any other legislator is 800-372-7181.
Sending love and light in challenging times,

Rep. Willner’s Legislative Update 3/6/2023

Dear Friends,

Last week in Frankfort was a rough one. The House passed House Bill 3, a proposal that presumes guilt before adjudication and would require incarceration of more youth and take away judicial authority and discretion.  The bill includes a $39 million appropriation for detention facilities without investing one penny in strategies that have worked elsewhere to increase public safety: intervention, prevention, re-entry services, alternatives to detention, and wraparound services for youth and families.  HB538, a school discipline bill, also passed the House this week.

HB538  would require, rather than allow, school expulsion and would significantly increase failed exclusionary discipline policies.  Both of these bills offer band-aids for serious symptoms, and ignore altogether the underlying causes of the problems the sponsors say their bills are designed to address.  For those of us concerned about the “school to prison pipeline,” the interrelatedness of these two bills is cause for grave concern. 

As problematic and short-sighted as these bills are, they do not live up to the sheer mean-spiritedness of HB470 – a bill that would criminalize medical practice, threaten mental health, and make evidence-based gender-affirming care illegal for minors across our state. 

HB470 and measures like it are opposed by every legitimate healthcare and mental health association in the country.  Many of those experts came to Frankfort to testify against the bill and to warn of its dangers.  Young people and family members of those directly affected also showed up to plead for the defeat of this dangerous bill, but their heartfelt testimony fell on deaf ears. 

While disregarding the testimony of health policy experts, mental health advocates, as well as those who warned against economic backlash, HB470’s primary sponsor repeatedly made reference to and drew talking points from disreputable and extremist sources such as the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) and the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds).  AAPS is described by Media Bias/Fact Check as “an extreme right questionable source based on the promotion of quackery level pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, use of poor sources, lack of [funding] transparency, as well as numerous false claims, and failed fact checks.”   And the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies ACPeds as a hate group, describing it as “a fringe anti-LGBTQ hate group that masquerades as the premier U.S. association of pediatricians to push anti-LGBTQ junk science, primarily via far-right conservative media…”

The legislature is charged with making public policy decisions that will have an impact on the lives of everyday Kentuckians. It is beyond disheartening that the majority of our body is making decisions on the so-called “authority” of pseudoscience, conspiracy theorists, and hate groups.  As I said on the House floor, this is not only irresponsible, it is downright terrifying. HB470 passed overwhelmingly on the House floor along party lines – with the exceptions of three northern Kentucky Republicans (Reps. Moser, Banta, Dietz) who voted no along with me and the rest of the minority party.  The bill is now headed to the Senate.  (You can watch the archived footage of the HB470 debate on the House floor, beginning at the 40’40” mark.)

Bipartisan Bills… 

There was some good news out of the House last week with several bipartisan bills receiving unanimous support: 

House Bill 331 would expand the availability of life-saving automated external defibrillators in our middle and high schools.

House Bill 21 would make it easier for Kentuckians without a permanent address to renew or replace their driver’s license.

House Bill 231 would strengthen criminal-history record checks for those in homes where social workers make emergency placements of children.

In the Media

At least one of my proposed bills was in the news this week: HB 246 would remove the statute of limitations in civil cases for child sexual abuse.  This is important because while many cases of child sexual abuse are never disclosed, the average age of those who do come forward is 52.  Here’s a story from WDRB.   

Remaining Days

As the session winds down, the possibility of this and several other important measures gaining traction this year continues to decrease.The General Assembly will return to the Capitol tomorrow, and will meet for four days this week and four more days next week before a 10-day veto recess that allows the Governor time to accept or reject bills.  The final two days of the 2023 session take place at the end of this month.

Contact Me…

To contact me about these or any other bills or topics, you can email me at Lisa.Willner@lrc.ky.gov. You can also leave a message for me or any other legislator by calling 800-372-7181 during normal business hours.

In community,