Legislative Update 4/15/2023

Hello friends,
While many of us are still reeling and recovering from what some writers have described as a particularly “cruel” legislative session, those of us here in Louisville began this week to the devastating news of a mass shooting in our community.    The shooting was devastating for people across the city.  I honor the lives lost, the fast response of LMPD officers, and the way our community has come together to grieve over the past week.  

The individual loss of life is a personal tragedy for the families and friends of the victims, and for our community as a whole.  The shooting itself – the 146th mass shooting in the US in 2023 – is yet another expression of the uniquely American public health crisis of gun violence.   As I write this, there have already been nine mass shootings in this country since Monday’s shooting in downtown Louisville. 

Here’s something else I can’t get out of my mind: the knowledge that gun violence in our city and across our state is so prevalent that yesterday’s injuries were barely a blip on the screen for our beleaguered healthcare providers.  UofL Health’s Dr. Jason Smith confirms it in his heartbreakingly honest remarks. The trauma and exhaustion from serving on the front lines of the gun violence pandemic are evident in Dr. Smith’s plea for policy makers to “do something.” 

Dr. Smith, I’ve heard you loud and clear, and I’m listening to all of you who’ve contacted me to address this epidemic with policy solutions.  I’m one of the Louisville Democratic lawmakers who signed on to our statement pledging to take action, and my record on sensible gun safety reforms is clear and strong.  Since serving in Frankfort, I’ve sponsored and co-sponsored bills for the kind of commonsense gun reforms that have been effective in other states, and that the vast majority of Kentuckians want.  These includes a “red flag” bill, or extreme risk protective order, to temporarily remove firearms from individuals at risk for harming self or other,  and a bill to allow individuals to place themselves on a voluntary do-not-sell-firearms list.  I’ve supported legislation that would allow Louisville and other municipalities to establish local gun safety ordinances, to require safe storage of firearms, to shore up background checks and waiting periods, and other commonsense reforms. 

Meanwhile, the General Assembly’s supermajority has failed even to assign any of these public safety measures to committees, while instead enacting dangerous laws promoted by the gun lobby, including one passed in 2019 to do away with training or permits for concealed carry, and a law passed just this year to make Kentucky a “Second Amendment sanctuary state” that would prohibit Kentucky  from enforcing federal gun regulations.  Another bill that would have banned gun-free zones on college campuses passed out of committee, although it stopped short of coming to the House for a full vote.  

These reckless actions can no longer be acceptable to any of us.  Kentuckians must continue to insist on a platform of change.  We can’t afford to be complacent about backward gun laws that endanger not only Kentuckians, but people in surrounding states whose lives are endangered by guns obtained in Kentucky.  Lives are literally at stake, and we must demand changes at the federal, state, and local levels.  The time is now for Kentucky’s supermajority to “do something” to protect us from gun violence, and  I remain committed to working with anyone who is willing to work in the best interests of Kentucky and Kentuckians.   

Mental Health Resources
Gun violence in our community can have a profound effect on our sense of safety and security, often creating anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms.  Here are some words of wisdom from several Kentucky mental health experts. The National Suicide and Crisis Hotline can be reached by calling 988.  In a local response to Monday’s shootings, Humana and the Humana Foundation announced an investment to bolster mental health resources in Louisville and helped establish a Community Crisis Support Line.  The line should be open 24/7 to anyone in the community and can be reached at 877-757-7587. By calling, individuals will receive professional emotional support and/or referral to community resources.

In the Media
Back to the cruelty of this year’s legislative session, here’s my op ed opposing SB150. (And here is a link to a paywall-free version.)  I submitted this piece prior to SB150 being vetoed, and having that veto overridden by the legislative super-majority.  SB150, dubbed the “worst anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ+ bill in the country” by many civil rights advocates, is now the law in Kentucky.  
Contact me…
While this year’s legislative session has come to a close, we will be resuming interim committee meetings in June.  You can reach me by responding to this message, at my official email:  Lisa.Willner@lrc.ky.gov , or by calling my Frankfort office and leaving a message for me at 502-564-8100. 
In community,

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,

Rep. Willner Legislative Update 2/26/2023

Dear Friends,
Having passed the halfway mark for the 2023 legislative session, only three bills have passed both chambers and become law so far:

House Bill 1 uses temporary revenue gains from federal dollars to make permanent tax cuts that will likely be debilitating down the road by preventing adequate investment in public education, public health, public safety, and other crucial services. (I voted no.)  House Bill 2 will help build Kentucky’s fifth veterans-only nursing home in Bowling Green.  (I voted yes.)  Senate Bill 10 was a non-controversial “clean-up bill” that made technical corrections to a business-related measure regarding registration of professional employer organizations.  (I voted yes.)

While it’s still too early to know what other bills will become law this session, we have now passed the filing deadline for new bills and have a better idea of what to expect. As of the deadline, nearly 900 bills were filed in the House and Senate, and about 60 have passed one of those chambers.

Two prominent bills that passed the House this week were HB146 and HB153.

HB146 rolled back a portion of the damage enacted in last year’s draconian HB4 that severely limited unemployment insurance benefits for Kentuckians who lost work through no fault of their own.  HB146 replaced a portion of what was taken away last year, allowing those eligible to receive a maximum of 16 weeks of benefits rather than the current 12.  It’s important to note that for 80 years prior to 2022’s HB4, Kentuckians were able to receive benefits for up to 26 weeks.

Even if HB146 becomes law, many Kentuckians will still have less time than in the past to get back on their feet and less chance to find a job in their field, putting their family incomes at greater risk.  That is especially likely for those living in rural areas or who lose their jobs mid-career or closer to retirement age.  Even though HB146 doesn’t undo all the damage done last year, I voted yes because it does mitigate some of the harm.

While HB146 lessens potential harm to Kentuckian, HB153 does just the opposite.  This misguided bill calls for Kentucky to effectively opt out of any federal efforts to rein in gun violence.  Specifically, the bill would bar local and state law enforcement agencies from enforcing any federal firearms restriction that has been enacted or re-interpreted since 2021.  There are real concerns about the constitutionality of a measure like HB146, and the bill has the potential to put our police officers in a precarious position in working with or obtaining funding from federal law enforcement.  With headlines dominated by mass shootings, and gun violence plaguing our own community, I spoke against this bill on the House floor and voted no.

A preview of likely coming attractions…

Reforms to Kentucky’s juvenile-justice system.  I wrote at some length about this in last week’s update, and in case you missed it, here’s my op ed with my colleague Rep. Keturah Herron. Juvenile justice-related bills have yet to come for a vote, but that could change any time. 

 Legalizing sports betting and medical marijuana.  The House passed versions of both last year, and there’s increasing hope that the Senate will finally sign off this year.  We’re among a small minority of states that haven’t adopted either, even with polling showing that Kentuckians overwhelmingly support both.  I support both of these initiatives, along with de-criminalizing cannabis.

 “Gray games,” the name given to slots-like machines found in many small businesses such as convenience stores and bars.  Supporters say these are games of skill, that they are a form of much-needed passive revenue for many mom-and-pop businesses, and that they should be regulated and taxed. Churchill Downs, the primary operator of slot machines in casino-like businesses across the state, opposes the competition from these machines and is pressing for a ban. 

Harmful anti-LGBTQ+ bills.  These dangerous bills pose a real threat to the health and well-being of trans and non-binary kids.  Efforts to advance “don’t say gay” bills, ban library books, and criminalize gender-affirming healthcare are being used as ammunition in a culture war without regard for the lives of the people who are harmed by politically-fueled rhetoric.  Supporters are spending an inordinate amount of time attacking trans kids who are asking for nothing more than respect and the ability to live their lives with integrity.  I oppose these bills with every fiber of my being, and I’m filled with gratitude for the large number of district 35 friends and neighbors who have reached out to express their opposition to these efforts.  

To contact me
If you’d like 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,

Happy New Year!  Legislative Preview 2023 from Rep. Willner

Dear Friends,
Happy New Year! 
I’m grateful to the voters of the new 35th district for the trust they’ve placed in me by electing me to represent them in Frankfort for another 2-year term.  As I have since first taking the Oath of Office in 2019, I will continue to work hard, listen to your concerns, and represent your values. 
The 2023 legislative session begins tomorrow, January 3rd.  When the General Assembly returns to the Capitol tomorrow, it will be just the 12th time in the modern era that it has met in an odd-numbered year to pass laws.
Voters made these odd-year legislative sessions possible by a constitutional amendment passed in 2000. Prior to that time, odd-year sessions lasted only for four days and were used solely to swear-in newly elected legislators, choose House and Senate leaders and establish committee memberships for the next two years.
Much of that work is still finalized in the same way today, but the remaining days of the odd-year “short sessions” are similar to those held in even-numbered years, with a few key differences.  During odd-year sessions, legislators meet for 30 instead of 60 days, and there is about a three-week gap in January where we return home before completing the bulk of our work in February and March.
The most significant difference is that bills affecting state spending during the legislature’s short session require support of three-fifths of the House and Senate instead of a simple majority.  This is largely to preserve the two-year budget process that state government still maintains.
It is too soon, of course, to say what will become law when the General Assembly begins meeting, but legislative leaders have promised a more deliberative pace than we have seen over the past several sessions.  Even so, there will still be hundreds of bills filed and dozens debated in committee and on the House and Senate floor.
Keeping track of this legislation is relatively easy in one sense but difficult in others, especially during a session’s final days. 
On one hand, you can check the general status of a bill by calling 866-840-2835 during normal business hours, and the number to find out the time and place of legislative committee meetings is 800-633-9650.  And the General Assembly’s website – legislature.ky.gov – is another great resource that features this information as well as the full text of legislation and House and Senate votes.
Unfortunately, the process is not nearly as transparent as it should be when votes are happening quickly; indeed, it can be tough for many legislators, much less the public, to stay current.  I will do my best to keep you informed. 
KET makes it possible to see many of our House and Senate meetings in real time, and those videos are always available in the online archives kept by the station, which also has a smartphone app you can download.  To learn more, visit the KET website: www.ket.org.
The General Assembly also has a YouTube channel for those committee meetings not covered by KET.  You can find it by searching for “Kentucky LRC streaming.”
In the upcoming session, I’ll be serving on the House Education, Children and Families, and Health Services Committees, as well as the budget review sub-committee for Health & Family Services.   
If you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns about legislation, you can email me at Lisa.Willner@lrc.ky.gov, and you also can leave a message for me or any other legislator (or all of us) by calling 800-372-7181, or 866-840-6574 for the Spanish language message line.  You can also request to be connected directly with my Frankfort office by calling 502-564-8100.  
 I will keep you updated about our work in the weeks ahead through periodic emails like this one, and more frequently through Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lisaforkyhouse and Twitter: @lgwillner.
Every contact I have with constituents like you helps me tremendously, and I’m always grateful for your engagement  Please don’t hesitate to reach out early and often, because that is the true foundation of the legislative process.
With wishes for all the best in 2023,