Legislative Update, 3/12/2022

Dear Friends,

There’s a disturbing national phenomenon that’s playing out in Frankfort with increasing intensity as the legislative session progresses.  It goes like this: ideologically driven “news” outlets promulgate and repeat disinformation; the disinformation creates alarm, public discord, and a demand for solutions to politically-motivated manufactured “problems;” and then policies are created and passed to “solve” difficulties that don’t exist.  Unfortunately, these propaganda-driven “solutions” often create real harms by further perpetuating dangerous disinformation, ignoring evidence of actual problems, and further marginalizing individuals and groups who are already struggling.  

Lexington’s Herald-Leader published a piece this week from public opinion writer Linda Blackford with the title, “Absolute GOP power in Frankfort leads to tsunami of bad ideas that will soon become law.”  

The headline says it all.  

Here are some examples of bad policy ideas that are grounded in false premises and that have been put on the fast track by legislative leaders from the super-majority party. 

Part 1 – bad policy ideas that have passed the House 

HB8 – tax reform to benefit the wealthy. Grounded in “trickle-down economics,” an approach that has been disproven many times over, one economic policy expert describes HB8 as the most fiscally destructive legislation in Kentucky’s history.  The bill would immediately reduce state income tax (currently making up 40% of Kentucky’s general fund), and eventually phase it out altogether.

As we know from the experience of other states, this is a move that benefits the wealthy, widens the wealth gap, and guts opportunities for public investment in services and structures that benefit the common good.  You can find more of my public comments opposing HB8 in the Herald-Leader.  

HB 3 – new restrictions on reproductive rights.  This dangerous bill includes no exceptions for when the life of the mother is at risk, or for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest – provisions favored by a broad majority of Kentuckians.   HB3 raises troubling privacy and safety concerns by mandating  extensive documentation of abortion procedures including, for minors, their  place of residence, age, race, and approximate age of the father.  A new mandate on physicians would require them to record “total number and dates of each previous pregnancy, live birth and abortion of the pregnant patient,” as well as the “probable gestational and post-fertilization ages of the unborn child,” and the “reason for the abortion, if known.”  HB3 also requires a “birth and death certificate” for an aborted fetus that includes the name of the mother and father, and the full names and addresses of the physician who performed the abortion and the referring physician.  In committee testimony opposing HB 3, an advocate noted that this provision “essentially create[es] a hit list for anti-abortion extremists.” 

The bill’s requirements are also at odds with medical and pharmacological science and practice 

With Kentucky already facing crises in maternal and infant health, this bill would make Kentucky an even more dangerous place for pregnant people and children, since evidence shows that states with more abortion restrictions score worse on health outcomes for women and children

States with more abortion restrictions also have relatively fewer policies that support health outcomes for pregnant people, infants, and families.  That is certainly the case here in Kentucky, where supportive policies such as those put forward by the House Democratic Women’s Caucus go largely unheard

HB29 – undermining enforcement of federal gun safety laws.  The KY legislature has seen proposals like this one going back at least to 2011, reinforcing the false narrative and political scare tactic that “people are coming to take away your guns.” While nobody is coming for anyone’s guns, Kentuckians are dying as a result of Kentucky lawmakers’ inaction on gun safety.  Data shows that states with lenient gun laws have three times the rate of gun deaths than states with sensible gun safety legislation.  Here in Kentucky (which Everytown for Gun Safety has labeled a “national failure,”) 2/3 of gun fatalities are suicides, and firearms are the #1 killer of Kentucky children and youth. 

HB28 – undermining public health.  The bill would prohibit state and local governments and public schools and universities from requiring or even asking about COVID vaccination status for students and employees. While I hope with all my heart that falling COVID numbers indicate the end of the COVID pandemic, this bill hamstrings the public health response in the event of future outbreaks.   

Part 2 – bad policy ideas that have passed committee 

HB23 and SB 83 – discriminating against trans youth. These bills targeting trans kids have advanced out of the House Education Committee in two separate meetings.  Twice, I’ve voiced objections and voted no on these harmful policies which are narrowly focused to discriminate against some of Kentucky’s most vulnerable young people.  These bills would prohibit trans girls from participating on their school athletic teams.  

Those promoting these harmful and mean-spirited bills claim to do so under federal Title IX protections, even though Title IX prohibits  discrimination based on gender identity.  

I noted in the committee hearing that, in addition to wrongs inflicted on individual kids, anti-LGBTQ discrimination is bad for economic development.  I’m grateful to the 150+ Kentucky businesses for their letter to legislators opposing these unfair and misguided  bills.  

Part 3 – bad policy ideas that have passed both chambers

HB4  – slashing unemployment insurance benefits  Under this punitive policy, Kentucky workers take a big hit. Starting in 2023, UI benefits will rise and fall based on the unemployment rate; and after just six weeks, applicants will have to accept any job for which they are qualified if the salary is marginally higher than their UI benefits and is within 30 miles of their home, even if the job is outside of their career, or pays significantly less than their previously held job. 
Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 150 – legislative overreach in managing the pandemic.  SJR150 would immediately declare an end to pandemic-related executive orders and state-issued regulations.  This actually undercuts the legislature’s own actions earlier this year, when the House and Senate originally set the ending date for April 14th.  One of the soon-to-be rescinded regulations makes it possible for qualified Kentucky families to receive amounts totaling $52 million extra in federal SNAP food benefits each month.  There is simply no reason for this resolution that justifies taking food off the table for families in need.  

While I expect the Governor will veto HB4 and SJR150, overriding the veto takes only a simple majority – 51 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate –  so it appears that both of these policies are well on their way to becoming law. 

Some good news! 

Even in this challenging environment, bipartisanship is still possible, and there are some good policies advancing.

HB354 will increase access to healthcare by removing some restrictions that have prevented Advanced Practice Registered Nurses from practicing to the full extent of their scope and training.  This bipartisan measure passed the House this week and advances to the Senate.  

HB136 would add Kentucky to the list of states authorizing medicinal cannabis.  The bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday and should be before a receptive House this week.  With a longtime Senate opponent now supportive of the bill, there’s a good chance this will become law.  Although I wish the bill were broader, HB 136 is a positive step. 

HB31, the C.R.O.W.N. Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) passed out of committee this week.  If enacted, it would end hair-based discrimination. Kudos to my friend and colleague Rep. Attica Scott for her persistent work on this bill, and to the student groups who’ve repeatedly come to Frankfort to support it.

In the news…

My Herald-Leader op ed, along with Senate Morgan McGarvey and Child USAdvocacy director Kathryn Robb, on the importance of lifting the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse and assault.  It is simply not acceptable for Kentucky to be the most dangerous place in the country to be a kid. 


There are of course many other issues moving through the legislative process, including the state budget, and the session days are long and getting longer as we move into the last weeks of the session.   

As always, I’m grateful to the many District 35 voters who’ve reached out to advocate on issues mentioned in this update, along with many other important issues before the General Assembly.  

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, 2/20/22

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,

Legislative Update, 1/29/22

Dear Friends,

My update this week is different than usual, focusing less on specific activities of the past week, and instead providing a broader overview of bills filed this session.  

Holocaust Day of Remembrance

On Thursday of this week, the Kentucky House of Representatives commemorated International Holocaust Day of Remembrance with a bipartisan, unanimously-supported House Resolution.  As stated in the Resolution, the occasion “offers an opportunity to reflect on the moral responsibility of individuals, societies, and governments.”  

In her remarks on the House floor, my friend and colleague Representative Nima Kulkarni described the gradual bureaucratic establishment of laws and policies that ultimately led to the death of 6 million Jewish people, and the persecution and death of millions more human beings based on their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and expression, political beliefs, physical and intellectual disabilities, mental illness, and economic status.  Rep. Kulkarni reminded us that the Holocaust was “an atrocity that did not happen overnight,  but over the course of . . . years.“ 

She went on: “The ties that bind us together as human beings are easily broken.  But they are rarely broken collectively or all at once.  They are broken person by person, little by little, day by day…. As soon as we allow ourselves to think of [one another] as…OTHER than us, atrocities become possible.” 

These are powerful words, and I’ve been reflecting on them ever since.  I’ve been thinking of long-standing policies and practices in our country and in our state that inflict harm; that explicitly or implicitly contribute to the disenfranchisement, marginalization, or “othering” of our fellow humans; and that sustain a caste system that is rarely acknowledged or discussed.
Currently, there are proposals pending before the legislature that would marginalize and inflict harm on some among us, and others that have the potential to mitigate past and current harms. 

2022 Bills that Marginalize and Exclude

Commonly referred to as the “anti-CRT” bills, HB18 would censor classroom teachers from discussions of history, literature, the arts, etc., that address race, and HB14 would punish schools for allowing teachers to discuss race. 

HB63 would mandate armed police officers with full powers of arrest inside every Kentucky public school.

HB231 would prohibit local governments and school districts from adopting “sanctuary” policies meant to provide comfort and safety to our immigrant neighbors without regard to their immigration status. 

SB44 would criminalize insulting a police officer at a protest, and is laden with troubling implications.

HB324 would add new and onerous barriers to already-burdensome restrictions on full reproductive healthcare for pregnant young people, that will have a disproportionate impact on poor kids, and minors who are the victims of incest and sexual assault.  

HB23HB247, and SB83 are anti-trans bills that would ban participation on girls’ school sports teams for some transgender students, contributing to shame and marginalization of some of Kentucky’s most vulnerable young people.

HB253 and SB84 would prevent trans youth from receiving gender-affirming healthcare, and ban  healthcare professionals from providing gender-affirming care. This is in sharp contrast to current and evidence-based clinical recommendations, and could have dire consequences for some young people. 

HB305 and SB50 would re-direct public dollars to pay for private school tuition, even though private schools are not held to the same nondiscrimination standards as our public schools.

2022 Bills to Mitigate Past and Current Harms

HB67 would require a teaching of the history of racism, and HB88 would add a requirement to include the history of African American and indigenous people in public school curricula.

HB11 would extend civil rights protections in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations to ALL Kentuckians, without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

HB12 would prevent licensed health providers from engaging in the dangerous and too-often deadly practice of so-called “conversion therapy.” 

HB13 would require comprehensive, age appropriate, medically accurate, and inclusive sex and healthy relationship education in our public schools, associated with reductions in bullying, assault, and sexual violence.  

HB293 would “ban the box” from employment applications.

HB235 would expand hate crime laws.

HB37 would address current racial disparities in maternal health and birth outcomes.  

HB47 would abolish the death penalty.

HB201 would require wealthy corporations to pay their fair share in taxes, and reform the current “upside-down” tax code that places the greatest tax burden on low- and middle-income Kentuckians. HB201 would also generate new revenue that would allow meaningful and long-term investments in education, public health, good jobs, a cleaner environment, and strong infrastructure to benefit ALL Kentuckians.   (NOTE: HB201 is an updated version of a bill I’ve filed in prior sessions.  Read more here.  

Please note that neither of the lists I’ve provided here is comprehensive, and that new bills – both harmful and helpful – are continuing to be filed.  You can access specific House Bill and  Senate Bill language, and track new bills as they’re filed.


As always, I appreciate hearing your thoughts and concerns. Thanks to the many constituents and friends who’ve already 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.  The toll-free message line for legislators is 1-800-372-7181. 

Be well,

Legislative Update: Final Session Day

Quick wrap-up of #kyga19 final session day:

Good: Passed tobacco-free schools bill and employer accommodations for pregnant workers. Two important public health wins!

Bad: The process was as terrible as ever with bill substitutes and amendments coming to legislators at 10, 11pm on the final night of session. On really consequential issues. This simply must change.

Really bad: The worst of these bills to pass- nearly entirely along party lines, and late into the night – was a “conference report” version of a KERS public pension bill, formerly known as HB 358. The bill does provides some immediate short term relief to some employers, but pulls out essential Jenga blocks that could cause the system to collapse in the (maybe not so) long term. And violates the inviolable contract. And leaves taxpayers to foot an estimated bill of nearly $1B. Stay tuned as more information unfolds….

Bizarre: a Republican legislator sponsored a resolution to honor Gov Bevin’s legal team for their “outstanding work” in advancing demonstrably illegal anti-abortion laws, and for “saving taxpayer dollars.” Even as taxpayer dollars are being spent defending this reckless behavior. Even as I write.

Even more bizarre: not only did the Speaker countenance this really weird resolution, but stood silently by as the same resolution sponsor went on *at length* to compare abortion to slavery and the Holocaust, and to personally go after State Representative Attica Scott for that good representative’s past reasonable questioning of an unconstitutional abortion ban. Not acceptable on so many levels, but especially in a context where my colleagues and I are regularly gaveled down or publicly berated by majority party leadership.

So… that was my night!

And still… we will #Persist!

Legislative Update, 3/9/2019

Another wild ride in Frankfort this week! But compared to the onslaught of problematic legislation that flew through the House during the week prior, relatively little legislation was voted on this week, and the bills that were voted on were mainly noncontroversial.

Still, there are some very problematic bills hanging out there which still have an opportunity to pass during the next three legislative days when we re-convene next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Those three days will take us through Day 29 of the 30 day session. After Thursday, we will recess for several days as we enter the Governor’s veto period. Then we come back for one final day on March 28th with the opportunity to legislatively override any vetoes.

This is my first session, but I have certainly observed as an outsider that a lot of mischief can happen in the final days of session. Last year’s teacher pension “Sewer Bill” is an example. Rushing bills through in the final days, attaching bad bills to otherwise good bills, is simply bad legislative process. It makes it very difficult for legislators to keep track of bills in any kind of meaningful way, and sets up enormous barriers to public input. We simply must do better.

In the meantime, the General Assembly has a long list of bills still awaiting final decision.

Several that generated headlines and public outcry this past week are education-related, and drew thousands of teachers to the Capitol to make their concerns and their voices heard. There are four bills of particular concern to educators, and to those of us who support public schools.

House Bill 525 would significantly alter how the board of trustees is selected for the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System (KTRS), and would significantly reduce teacher voice. Teachers have long had the authority to nominate seven of the 11 trustees, but that would effectively drop to two under this bill. Most of the remaining nominations would be made by education-oriented organizations. KTRS is an outstanding retirement system that stands alongside some of the best in the country. As I said in last week’s wrap-up, HB 525 is a solution in search of a problem. The good news is that the legislation has not cleared the House by the end of the week, and it’s possible that we will run out the clock on this poorly-conceived legislation.

The same can be said of House Bill 205, which also has not been considered yet by the entire House. It would authorize up to $25 million in tax credits annually for those who donate to private elementary and secondary schools to boost scholarships. While the bill is promoted as being a help to poor families, that is simply not how this type of legislation has played out in other states, where the majority of scholarship funds went to students already attending private schools. The $25 million credit is predicted to grow in future years, at great cost to our meager public coffers. There are significant constitutional concerns about this legislation, in addition to the funding concerns for our public schools and other public services.

(For another perspective opposing HB 205, I encourage you to take a look at an op ed entitled “Why Catholics should oppose Kentucky private school tax bill,” posted elsewhere on my page. The piece was written by our past District 35 Representative, the Honorable Jim Wayne.)

Senate Bill 250 is an education bill that only applies to Jefferson County Public Schools. The section of the bill drawing the most public opposition is that it reduces the authority of Site Based Decision Making Councils in principal selection. In reality, superintendents already have tremendous authority over principal selection, and I share the concerns of many of the bill’s critics that it threatens teacher voice and parent input.

While these three bills are are still pending, a fourth – Senate Bill 8 – was sent to the Governor for his signature on Thursday. The bill overhauls the teacher tribunal process and diminishes public voice in hearings that are an important part of due process for teachers and other certified employees. I spoke against the bill on the House floor, and cast a no vote.

More bills to watch:

HB 354 would, among other things, fix a small portion of last year’s tax overhaul so that non-profit organizations would get back many if not all of the exemptions they lost last year. I opposed the 2018 tax changes which gave tax breaks to the wealthiest Kentuckians, and would like to see the entire tax structure overhauled. In the meantime, I believe we must offer some relief to our non-profits, which do so much for the people of the 35th district and across the state. But this is a bill I think we need to watch carefully for what could be added into it in the final days. In the end, this and the related HB 268 – which opens the budget for other projects – could turn out to be quite consequential.

Another innocuous-sounding but quite dangerous bill to watch is HB 254, a so-called “free speech” bill applying to public colleges. The bill does nothing to add to free speech protections already provided through our Constitution, but slides in a problematic definition of sexual harassment that would make it much more difficult for sexual assault victims to report. The Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs strongly opposes the bill.

In better news:

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 136, a bill to legalize medical marijuana, putting us in line with more than 30 other states that have taken similar or more far-reaching steps. Time appears to have run out for the bill to pass this session, but this represents progress on the issue compared to prior sessions.

The very dangerous anti-transparency bills – SB 193 and HB 387 – that would have turned Kentucky’s important “sunshine” laws on their head, appear to be dead this session. That these bills were even filed in the first place is troubling enough. Let’s celebrate their demise!

If you would like to know more about these or other bills, please visit the General Assembly’s website at www.legislature.ky.gov. If you would like to add your voice to those supporting or opposing these measures, meanwhile, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Although I’ve not been able to keep up with responses to all your messages, I assure you that I’m reading every one of them. Your voice matters.

Legislative Update, 3/2/2019

I’ve maintained equanimity in my past weeks’ legislative updates, but the dangerous legislation and the hypocrisy on full display in the House this week cannot go ignored or unmentioned.

On Wednesday, the House voted to approve SB1, an unfunded school safety bill that adds some mental health resources, but mainly focuses on “hardening the target” for mass shootings at schools. Then on Friday, the House voted 60-37 to pass SB 150, a bill to allow concealed carry of firearms without training or permit.

I was the first, but not the only House member, to point out the hypocrisy of congratulating ourselves one day for our commitment to keeping kids safe, while voting two days later on legislation that undermines safety. SB 150 completely eliminates the concealed carry permitting system that has, over the past 20 years, kept concealed firearms out of the hands of over 10,000 felons and domestic abusers in our state. While mass shootings in schools grab headlines as well as public focus and outrage over these horrible incidents, the truth is that 86% of childhood deaths by mass shooting occur not in schools or by the hand of strangers, but in family and domestic violence incidents. The passage of SB150 puts Kentucky children at additional risk.

Law enforcement agencies across the state – Louisville Metro Police Department, the Kentucky Sheriff’s Association, and the state Fraternal Order of Police, among others– all opposed the passage of SB 150. In fact, even as the 2+-hour House debate over SB150 raged on, the state FOP was sending out its own messages warning of the bill’s potential “deadly consequences.” Still, 60 members of Kentucky’s House of Representatives, voted Yes on SB 150.

In the same day that SB 150 passed the House, Gov. Matt Bevin announced to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he will sign the bill in to law. His message to the thousands of Kentuckians who oppose the dismantling of responsible gun ownership? “And for those people who are offended at this idea and don’t like it, there are other places in America where they could live.” Despite the Governor’s call to “Love it or leave it,” my plan is to continue fighting and standing up for the safety and the common good of Kentuckians every single day.

While priority legislation being pushed by the majority party in both the House and Senate focuses on numerous wedge issues, there is little to no serious legislation to address real concerns of the people of the 35th district – the opioid crisis, aging public infrastructure, relief for working families, access to health care, disabilities issues, unprecedented numbers of children in foster care, retiree concerns, pension funding, funding for public schools, etc.

Meanwhile, good bills are being blocked, while legislation that would cause additional harm are being fast-tracked.

The arrival of hundreds of teachers at the Capitol last Thursday made it feel like 2018 all over again. They came to Frankfort to oppose yet another unfair and unnecessary bill directly affecting the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System. Last year’s rallies were focused on current and future benefits, while this year’s is about the very governance of KTRS itself. Some say the bill making its way through the legislature now – HB 525 – could have a bigger impact than the public-pension “Sewer Bill” that was unanimously struck down in December by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

House Bill 525 is wrong for Kentucky, and is a solution in search of a problem. Educators oppose HB 525 because it significantly diminishes their role in determining the 11-member KTRS Board of Trustees. Teachers would see their current authority to nominate seven trustees reduced to two, with most of the remaining nominations coming from an array of educational organizations. Certified public accountants – who are not even backing this approach! – would have a seat on the board as well, even though current law already requires trustees with investment experience.

The final fate of HB 525 is still uncertain, given the relatively few remaining days left in this year’s legislative session. But as we saw with last year’s Sewer Bill, proposals like this that have the backing of the majority party in both the House and Senate have a way of moving quickly.

On one positive note, my colleagues and I unanimously voted for HB 60, a bipartisan bill to strengthen sexual harassment policies governing the Legislative Branch. My goals in running for the Kentucky House included finding ways to work in a bipartisan way to advance the common good, and to change the culture in Frankfort. HB 60 meets both goals. While the legislation is not perfect, it is a meaningful first step toward making our State Capitol a safer place – especially for women – to legislate, work, and visit.

Beyond legislation, it was an honor to participate in this year’s annual Rally for Fairness in Frankfort! With record numbers of co-sponsors for statewide Fairness, and the bill to ban the dangerous practice of conversion therapy, there is much to celebrate, even as we know there is still much work ahead.

As far as visitors, I had great conversations this week with groups of student advocates from Marion C. Moore, and from Mercy Academy. These social justice champions are on a path to change the world!

So far, only a relatively small number of bills have been sent to the Governor to be signed in to law, but we can expect for that to change this week and next. As the General Assembly makes final decisions on what will become law, and what will wait another year, I hope you will continue letting me know your views. We are scheduled to wrap up our work by the end of this month.