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.

Legislative Update, 2/23/2019

This week, the volume of phone messages and emails from voters and advocacy groups increased dramatically. On several bills, I received messages from voters asking me to support, and from others asking me to oppose. In the ethical code of conduct for psychologists, our first principle is to do good and not harm. I apply that same principle when making decisions about how to vote on legislation by asking myself if the bill would cause greater harm or greater good. Additional points in making decisions include listening to the views of those most affected by any given bill, as well as considering what role, if any, the legislature has to play in a given issue.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a major tax overhaul that caused a good deal of harm. I thank my predecessor and many of my current colleagues for their fierce opposition to the 2018 tax “reform” bill that raised taxes on 95% of working Kentuckians, even as it lowered taxes on major corporations by hundreds of millions of dollars. This harmful bill was presented and passed on the very same day.

Among other harms caused by this rushed legislation was a big financial hit to non-profit organizations that lost several long-held exemptions. On Thursday, the House moved to correct that mistake by passing HB 354 with a 96-4 vote. While the bill exempts nonprofit organizations from sales tax on admissions and on their first $10,000 in sales, it also sneaked in an additional corporate giveaway. I voted in favor of the bill, but it was not as easy a decision as it would have been if we had been presented with a “clean” bill.

There were several good bills passed out of the House this week including HB 158, which passed with a 99-0 vote. The bill would create a foster child’s “bill of rights,” a list of 16 rights for our nearly 10,000 Kentucky children in foster care, that include rights to adequate food, clothing, shelter, and the right to a safe, stable family. The bill would also require national and state background checks on child residential home and placement agency staff as required under new federal law.

House Bill 64 also passed overwhelmingly, and would let pharmacists dispense an emergency prescription refill for maintenance drugs, such as insulin, without prior authorization by a physician. Removing the barrier of prior authorization could mean the difference between life and death for those in critical need. As a member of the Health and Family Services Committee, it was powerful to hear testimony from those most affected.

House Bill 180 could also be a lifesaver for veterans with PTSD or who are otherwise at risk and have been reported missing. If it becomes law, local authorities would be able to activate the Golden Alert system currently used to make the public aware of a missing adult with a mental impairment. For veterans who fall under this new category, this would be known as a Green Alert.

Also this week, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill to provide needed financial relief to public universities, public health departments, and critically-needed repairs to state parks.

On the question of topics suitable for legislative action, I opposed HB 166 that would establish “A Day of Prayer for Kentucky’s Students.” In my comments on the House floor, I stated that I do not oppose prayer (which is, in any case, fully protected under the Constitution), but that I oppose the legislating of prayer by politicians. The bill passed 79-18.

Last week marked the final day to file bills, and I’ve sponsored two additional bills – HB 438 and HB485 – to address sexual harassment and assault prevention in K-12 and higher education settings.

Highlights of the past week include the annual African American History program in the rotunda, visits from UofL STEM scholars, the KY Arts Council, and advocates for families faced with the challenges of patient care for Alzheimers, as well as the many individuals and groups who came to the Capitol last week to share their stories and concerns.

We are now in the second half of the 30-day 2019 session, with just 13 legislative days remaining. A shorter calendar will mean longer days trying to find compromises on numerous bills. As always, please keep visiting, calling and emailing to let me know your views.

Legislative Update, 2/16/2019

We were back in full swing this week, with a number of bills moving out of committee and onto the House floor. The committee structure is really important, since that’s where much of the substantive work is done on the bills that will eventually be signed in to law.

The Kentucky House has 16 standing committees that consider legislation. The three that I serve on are Education; Health and Family Services; and Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protections (VMAPP). All of the committees have many bills referred to them, but the committee chairs have a good deal of discretion about which bills will actually be placed on the committees’ agenda for discussion and consideration. Many of the bills that are filed during the session never get to a committee hearing.

An important bill that did pass through committee this week is HB60, a bipartisan anti-sexual harassment bill that would make our Capitol a safer place to work and to serve. A smoking ban for K-12 public schools, HB11, has also sailed easily out of committee. HB11 is broadly supported by numerous health advocates and advocacy groups, and would improve the health and economic outcomes for our students, and improve the public health outcomes of our state. I’m hopeful that both of these bills will get a hearing and a yes vote so that they can head over to the Senate for consideration in that chamber.

Looking to the week ahead, I expect that the education committee will have hearings on SB1, a school safety bill, and HB202, a bill that would ban corporal punishment in our public schools. I also expect to be presenting HB323 in the VMAPP committee, a bill that would ease barriers to employment for military spouses when they move from one state to another.

It has been interesting to have a close-up seat to how legislation evolves through the democratic process. I received a LOT of input this week from voters – overwhelmingly opposing but a few supporting – on SB100, a bill expected to have a significant impact on Kentucky’s budding solar energy industry. I voted no on the bill, and while it did pass the House, the version of SB100 that passed the House was drastically different from the version passed by the Senate. The next step with this controversial piece of legislation will be for members of a conference committee to work together to try and hammer out the differences. While the process can be messy, this is actually how our democracy is designed to work – bringing diverse voices and perspectives together, and sitting down together to find a way forward.

Another bill to come out of committee on Thursday is actually on track to be the first sent to the Governor for his signature. This is a simple bill, but an important one since it would increase public transparency by requiring electronic filing of all campaign finance reports. This change would speed up the process to get information online and available to voters. Most of these reports are now filed on paper, which takes time and resources for election officials to enter manually. If this bill becomes law, it will take effect during the 2020 primary.

Although debate from opposing sides is built into the legislative process, there are other moments where there is broad consensus. We saw an ideal example of that on Tuesday, when House and Senate members from both parties came together to announce the formation of the Engage & Empower Caucus. This caucus is designed to serve as a focal point for legislation that would help the estimated 874,000 Kentuckians with a disability. With big thanks to co-chairs Representative Al Gentry (D-Jefferson) and Rep. Brandon Reed (R-Green, Larue, Marion), I was deeply honored to be invited to serve as one of the inaugural members of the new caucus. Among legislation that the Engage & Empower Caucus will promote this year is a bill to help people with disabilities retrofit their homes, and bills that would increase health insurance coverage for prosthetics and durable medical equipment.

One of the best aspects of legislative sessions is the sheer number of people who visit the Capitol. There have already been thousands who have come to support or oppose a bill,or just to make legislators more aware of causes important to them. This week we saw students advocating for increased support with career and technical education, and heard from community members advocating to end the dangerous practice of conversion therapy, along with folks representing many other causes. 
On Thursday, there was a rally in the Capitol Rotunda in support of affordable housing. Kentucky has a much higher percentage of people who struggle to find a place to live within their budget, but such organizations as Habitat for Humanity and the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky are making a profound difference when it comes to improving those numbers.

Wednesday was Kentucky’s 15th annual Children’s Advocacy Day, which focuses on improving the overall well-being of our youngest Kentuckians. Some of the proposals highlighted include limiting the skyrocketing use of e-cigarettes among adolescents and young adults; providing more mental-health professionals in our schools who can recognize and treat behavioral issues early on; and doing more to help young adults transitioning out of foster care.

In the week ahead, we reach the halfway point of the 30-day session, so the pace to approve bills is set to quicken. We will wrap up much of our work by mid-March and complete the session by the end of that month.

Legislative Update, 2/9/2019

The 2019 regular session resumed this past Tuesday, with days 5-8 of this year’s 30-day session. We will continue to meet throughout February and early March, then break for several Veto Days. Between now and the end of the session in late March, we can expect a flurry of activity!

Relatively few votes were taken last week, but this was an important time for committees to meet, to meet with constituents and advocates, and to solidify priorities. To that end, the House Democratic Women’s Caucus met this week, and adopted several bills as our shared priorities. 
These are:

HB 112 – to provide state funding for public pre-K.

HB 113 – to provide state funding for public Kindergarten. (Currently, the state only funds ½ day Kindergarten, with most local districts picking up the balance.)

HB 23 – to eliminate the “pink tax,” or sales tax on necessary feminine hygiene products.

HB 126 – to increase transparency and accountability in the oversight of Kentucky’s public pensions.

HB 83 – to increase protections against sexual harassment in the State Capitol.

The Health and Family Services Committee unanimously passed two very positive bills that will be on tomorrow’s consent agenda for a vote in the full House. HB 11 is a statewide smoking ban on public school campuses. HB 121 would eliminate the requirement for insurance companies to authorize the prescribing of life-saving anti-addiction drugs such as methadone. There are too many stories of death by drug overdoses during time-consuming prior authorization periods. I’m hopeful that HB121 will move quickly through the House and Senate and be signed in to law before one more life is lost.

Senate Bill 1 – the school safety bill that is top priority for both House and Senate leadership – unanimously passed out of the Senate last week, and will be heading to the House for action on that side. I was dismayed to read that, in the new version of SB1, licensed mental health professionals have been eliminated from the Bill language. I have no doubt that SB1 is well-intended, but this was a change in the wrong direction! The good news is that there appears to be willingness to continue making adjustments to the policy.

In other news, we learned on Friday that Rep. Jim Glenn of Owensboro will be allowed to serve his complete term following his opponent’s decision to drop an election contest. You may remember that Rep. Glenn won his seat by a single vote last November. The election was certified both locally and statewide by election officials, and Rep. Glenn was sworn in and assigned to committees.

The election contest was brought before the House last month, in part because more than a dozen absentee ballots were rejected in November (by a bipartisan elections panel) because they did not meet statewide standards. A recount a little more than a week ago showed Rep. Glenn did indeed win the race, but after some of the ballots that had been rejected were accepted, the outcome was a tie. Fortunately, Friday’s events put an end to this issue.

This week also brought us the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth speech. The Governor appears to have shifted into campaign mode by staying away from bomb-throwing and insults, and focusing instead on issues that we can all agree on: improving school safety, addressing the opioid epidemic, and increasing adoptions of the nearly 10,000 young people currently in the state’s foster care system. The tone is certainly a welcome shift, although the speech was short on vision or economic policy to genuinely address these very real challenges.

On the economic front, we did receive some good news last week. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture reported to the House Agriculture Committee that it has approved requests by farmers to grow as many as 42,000 acres of industrial hemp in 2019. That’s up from 16,000 acres last year and just 33 acres in 2014, the first year the crop could be grown in Kentucky. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this growth area for our state!

And the Kentucky Distillers Association reported that the number of distilleries in the state and the value of their spirits have tripled over the past decade. The payroll for those working in the industry now tops $1 billion, and there were 1.4 million people who visited the Bourbon Trail in 2018 – nearly four times as many as in 2009.

I will keep you updated on these and many other issues facing the General Assembly, and I encourage you to keep letting me know your thoughts as well. Your calls, emails, letters and in-person visits are so important.

Legislative Update, 2/2/2019

Week 3 of the 3-week recess is behind us, and Part II of the Legislative Session begins this Tuesday, gaveling in at 4:00.

My focus as a State Rep during the recess has been to meet with constituents, read up on bills, and provide opportunities for engagement.

To that end, I was glad to co-host a Legislative Town Hall this past Wednesday, along with State Representative Mary Lou Marzian and Democratic Leader State Senator Morgan Mcgarvey. We were heartened by the great turn-out, especially given the bitter cold that evening! We are hoping to offer at least one more Town Hall event before this year’s short session comes to a close.

There was good discussion and engagement around our public pensions, with Sen. McGarvey giving a thorough report-out from his participation on the bipartisan Public Pensions Working Group. We also had a chance to discuss HB 126, a bill I’ve sponsored that would increase transparency and accountability in the oversight of our public pensions. That bill has been assigned to the House State Government Committee.

We also discussed SB1 and HB1, the twin “School Safety and Resiliency” bills, that are the top priority of both chambers of the General Assembly. While there is much to applaud in the bills, there are some areas to be concerned about, including a proposed requirement for every school in the Commonwealth to hire or contract with an armed law enforcement officer. The bills, as currently drafted, would require the hiring of more than 3 times as many law enforcement officers than licensed mental health professionals.

On that topic, I participated in a KET-TV hosted Live Town Hall that was recorded last week, and will air on February 11th at 8pm.

Also last week, I attended a Community Noise Forum meeting, hosted bi-monthly at Airport Authority. I’ll take this opportunity to give a shout-out to Representative Jeff Donohue and State Representative McKenzie Cantrell for sponsoring HB 122, an act relating to tax credits to homeowners for airport noise mitigation. This good policy actually passed both the House and Senate in 2016, only to be vetoed by the Governor. The bill has been referred to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee. I encourage you to contact the Legislative Message Line and to leave messages for the Chair and members of that committee if you would like to see the bill get a hearing this year.

Rounding out some of last week’s highlights, several members of the women’s Jefferson County delegation spent a great hour+ with University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi in a free exchange of questions and ideas, and heard about the new UofL strategic plan, and Dr. Neeli’s vision of putting students first, while benefiting our local community and the Commonwealth as a whole.

And finally, a quick note from the House Democratic Women’s Caucus. At our organizing meeting a couple of weeks ago, there was unanimous concern from our members about the harsh limitations placed on public access to the people’s State Capitol building. We were told that barriers to public access were a result of safety recommendations from the State Police and Kentucky Firefighters, and that supporting documents would be made available upon request. Although the Women’s Caucus formally requested those documents more than three weeks ago, none have been provided to date. I will continue to keep you posted on how this progresses.

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.