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.

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.