Legislative Update 2/8/2020

In this first week of February, we’ve made it through the first third of the 60-day 2020 Regular Session. The vast majority of bills passed out of the House to date have been strongly bipartisan, and have had little controversy. However, the pace has picked up substantially, and more controversial measures are heading our way – as we saw yesterday with the House discussion and vote on SB 8, the “school safety” measure that requires armed police officers on every public school campus.  (SB 8 – and those of us who voted against it –  got substantial news coverage across the state.  Here’s a sample.)

The intensity in Frankfort will only increase as we delve into the Governor’s proposed budget, and as several problematic Senate Bills pass out of that chamber, and make their way through House Committees and onto the House floor.

Budget: State Budget Director John Hicks briefed members of the House and Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committees. Director Hicks has worked on numerous budgets under eight different administrations, both Democratic and Republican. His message is clear: our state needs new revenue so that we can invest appropriately in education, maintain life-saving public services, and meet pension obligations. 

Senate Bill 1, a bill that would not solve a single problem facing Kentuckians, but would put our immigrant friends and neighbors at grave risk of family separation and additional harms, passed out of the Senate 28-10.  Thank you to District 35 voters for your vocal and continued advocacy against this very problematic bill.  

Senate Bill 2 also passed easily out of the Senate chamber, and has been posted for a hearing in the House Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee.  I have been newly appointed to this committee, and will have the opportunity to be on the front lines of objection and resistance to this bill that would restrict voter access, particularly for people of color, the poor, and senior citizens.  I’m grateful for the work of the Kentucky League of Women Voters for all they are doing to educate Kentuckians about the problems presented by SB 2.

SB 1 and SB 2 are headline grabbers, do not solve any actual problems, and serve as politically orchestrated distractions from the very real challenges facing the people of Kentucky. 

The budget and divisive priority bills will continue to dominate the headlines – and, unfortunately, our time in Frankfort – but less-polarizing, less-publicized bills that benefit actual Kentuckians also require our attention, and deserve mention here:

  • HCR 49 would establish a Severe Mental Illness task force to examine gaps in services and supports for the estimated 2.6% of Kentuckians living with SMI. While the number of those diagnosed with SMI is relatively small, the impact on families, communities, and public services is enormous.  This resolution passed the House 94-0, and has moved to the Senate. 
  • HB 266 would remove barriers in order to make public school enrollment easier for military families when they are transferred or choose to move to our state.  Passed unanimously, 86-0.
  • HB 59 would establish a Farmer Suicide Prevention Day, to raise awareness of an issue that is so devastating in rural areas of our state.  Passed unanimously, 86-0. 
  • HB 135 allows Physician Assistants to practice to the full extent of the training and expertise, putting Kentucky on track with the 49 other states that already allow PAs to prescribe controlled substances, within a clear regulatory framework.  With healthcare access a big problem for many Kentuckians, and with a severe shortage of healthcare providers in our state, this legislation has been several years in the crafting, and is long overdue. Passed 91-1.    
  • Of the several good bills passed out of the House this week, I am particularly enthusiastic about HB 22, a bill that bans the use of physical force (corporal punishment) in school disciplinary practices. The bill originated with several student advocates during the participation in Kentucky Youth Assembly.  Congratulations to high school students Alex Young (35th district neighbor!), Elizabeth George, and Charlie Gardner for their persistent work over four years to finally see their bill pass the House. (See photo above, just after their bill successfully passed in the House Education Committee.)  Now, onward to the Senate!  HB 22 passed 65-17. 

 Updates on a couple of good bills that appear to be stuck:
HB 137, the sports betting bill that would allow more Kentucky recreational dollars to remain in Kentucky, passed out of House committee on January 15th.  While it has been moved to the House “Orders of the Day,” it has not yet been called to the floor for a vote.  I have received an enormous number of voter messages in favor of the bill.  I support HB 137, and am a co-sponsor of the bill.  I am hopeful that we will have an opportunity to vote on this bill soon.
HB 199, the bill I sponsored to ban licensed professionals from engaging in the dangerous practice of  conversion “therapy,” continues to pick up momentum and support.  The bill – and its twin in the Senate, SB 85 – has bipartisan support, and the backing of numerous health provider associations.  I am hearing from supporters every day who recognize the importance of the legislation.  This week, I was visited by several physician members of the Greater Louisville Medical Association and the KY Medical Association who stand in strong support of the measure.  HB 199 has been referred to the House Health and Family Services Committee, where it has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. 
This is just a quick glimpse of the week in Frankfort.  It is a busy time, and the pace will continue to accelerate.
As always, I love hearing from you, and will always listen to your perspective.  The laws we debate have an impact on you, and it is important for your views to be represented. 
You can stay up-to-date on the budget negotiations and other legislative actions throughout the session by logging onto the Kentucky General Assembly website at www.legislature.ky.gov