Legislative Update 1/17/2021

Dear Friends,

What a time!

Part One of Kentucky’s 2021 General Assembly ended last week, against a backdrop of COVID cases and positivity rates spiking in Kentucky; ongoing economic struggles for small businesses, low-wage workers, and others; a deadly coup attempt at the US Capitol; and threats of violence in state capitals across the country.  Seriously, all –  amid these stressful times when so many are struggling and feeling fragile, please find ways to take care of yourselves, and to extend some extra kindness to those around you.  

I’m grateful for the kindness so many of you have shown me as I navigate Frankfort in these chilling times, for your messages of concern, and for your engagement on issues that affect the lives of everyday Kentuckians.   I’m grateful that we’re not scheduled to be in session during the days when threats of violence at the Capitol are at their most extreme.  While these threats are disturbing, I’m keenly aware that I have little control over whether or not they are carried out.  On the other hand, individual legislators have a great deal of autonomy in the choices we make about our own behaviors as we navigate the very real threat of COVID exposure during the legislative session, the dangers of  spreading the deadly virus within the legislature and to staff members, and in carrying the illness back to our own communities across the state.  

As the 2021 General Assembly got underway, I posted this:

“Out of respect for leaders, staff, and others who are required to be in the chamber, and for the safety of myself and others, I’m taking full advantage of the technology provided and participating from my Annex office. I’m chimed in, ready to vote, relay questions and comments to leadership to be read on the House floor, and to fully represent the 35th – while keeping myself and others safe.”

Thank you for the outpouring of support you’ve sent me in response!

On to legislative matters…

There’s so much need in our state right now, much of it longstanding, and much of it highlighted and exacerbated by the pandemic.  As Kentuckians struggle, the legislative majority party set its priority to empower itself by wresting executive power from the Governor’s office.  

There are a number of bills that would limit the length of time of a governor’s emergency orders, unless ratified by the legislature.  If passed, these bills would essentially require the Governor to call special legislative sessions, putting additional money in lawmakers’ pockets at tremendous expense to taxpayers, and would entail lengthy debate over health and safety decisions that need to be made quickly.  

I would challenge these short-sighted — and likely unconstitutional – efforts at any time.  But in the midst of a deadly global pandemic, these attempts are downright dangerous. It seems clear that emergency powers are properly housed in the executive branch under a governor’s authority.  We should all be concerned about the grave risk posed by limiting that authority during a time of emergency.

Impeachment committee formed…

Alongside this legislative power grab, the House has moved forward with a very public review of a citizen-filed petition asking the chamber to impeach Governor Beshear for his role in managing the pandemic. While Kentucky law gives citizens the right to make such a petition, it is no different than the same right we all have to sue anyone for anything at any time.  In other words, there is not a high bar to make such claims.  Impeachment in Kentucky is extremely rare.

My legislative email inbox is dominated by messages from constituents asking me to oppose impeachment of the Governor.  I’m grateful for your engagement on the issue.  I also find myself questioning whether there is a real and credible likelihood of impeachment.  A possibility is that the impeachment committee formation is mainly a political stunt designed to distract from the problematic and dangerous bills being jammed through the legislative process at breakneck speed.  

At this time, I’ve been presented no evidence of impeachable actions by the Governor. Because it is possible that the impeachment question may come before the entire House for a vote, I cannot comment further. 

My legislative work during Part One of the session…

My focus remains on filing and supporting bills that support and protect the rights and well-being of ordinary Kentuckians.  My efforts during the brief Part One of the 2021 General Assembly include the following:

HB 240 – A bill to waive unemployment insurance (UI) overpayment debts when overpayment was due to agency error, or not due to fraud by the recipient.  Kentucky is in the minority of states that does not already have such protections in place for UI recipients.  I’m working with State Representative Nima Kulkarni on the bill. The need for this legislation has never been more urgent than it is now.  

HB 19 –  The “Youth Mental Health Protection Act,” to prevent licensed health providers from engaging in the discredited and dangerous practice of so-called conversion “therapy.”  This is my third session as primary sponsor of this important legislation, and my first to file the bill with a Republican primary co-sponsor, State Representative Kim Banta.  HB 19 is backed by every major health advocacy organization across the state, as well as numerous student, religious, and other organizations. 

For a conversation about conversion “therapy” and to learn more about the broad coalition supporting passage of this bill, check out: https://www.facebook.com/166868020565201/posts/793598611225469/?d=n

HB 130 – The statewide Fairness bill, a bill to extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ people in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations.  This important bill, carried for many years by LGBTQ+ civil-rights champion State Representative Mary Lou Marzian, makes history this year as the first primary co-sponsored Fairness Bill to be filed in the Kentucky House.  I’m honored to be the primary sponsor of this important legislation this year, and to work across the aisle with Republican primary co-sponsor State Representative Kim Banta.  To read more: https://bit.ly/2XQl1le

HB 173 – “Christopher’s Law” to honor the life and memory of Christopher McKinney, a much-loved member of our community who died violently and needlessly just a year ago, and to protect others from injury or death in similar circumstances.  The bill would require background checks and training for bouncers.  It is my privilege to work closely with Christopher’s widower, Nicholas Clark, on this bipartisan bill, along with primary co-sponsor, Republican State Representative Jim DuPlessis.   

To learn more about this legislation, and the events that prompted the bill, see: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/ky-legislature/2021/01/05/kentucky-representative-files-bill-establishing-guidelines-bouncers/6556109002/

HB 244HB 245HB 246 – This package of police accountability bills comes in the wake of community protests against the killing of Breonna Taylor, where we saw far too many members of our community traumatized, targeted, and unjustly arrested while exercising their First Amendent rights of peaceful assembly and protest, at the hands of those sworn to protect them.  The bills come in direct response to the first-hand experiences of many of our friends and neighbors throughout the summer and fall, and in close work with State Representative Attica Scott, the ACLU of Kentucky, attorneys defending protesters unjustly targeted and arrested, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, the KY Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and many other organizations and individuals. 

Read more here:

here: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/ky-general-assembly/2021/01/10/kentucky-legislators-police-reform-bills-breonna-taylor-protests/6615751002/,

and here: https://www.wave3.com/2021/01/10/ky-reps-attica-scott-lisa-willner-unveil-bills-protect-protesters-de-militarize-police/

Legislators will return to Frankfort for Part Two of the session on February 2nd.  In the meantime, and as always, you can contact me with your comments, questions and concerns at Lisa.Willner@lrc.ky.gov and by calling the Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181. 

Stay safe, be well,