Legislative Update 2/8/2021

Dear Friends,

Last week, the General Assembly returned to Frankfort for Part 2 of the 2021 legislative session.  To describe the week as “eventful” is an understatement.  Republican-led initiatives were moved through the legislature at high speed that will make Kentuckians more vulnerable to COVID-19, and could hamper public school teacher recruitment and retention for years to come. 

Veto overrides:
Before the 2021 session began, there was broad speculation that many of the Republican majority’s high priority bills would wind up in court.  Those predictions proved true last week, when the House and Senate immediately overrode Gov. Beshear’s vetoes.  The Governor immediately sued to block enactment of bills that would make it impossible for him –  and future governors – to enact long-term emergency orders to keep Kentuckians safe during this pandemic and future emergencies. 

The courts will determine the final outcome, but the Kentucky Supreme Court made it clear last year that a governor has wide latitude to address a public-health emergency.  Prior court rulings have also re-affirmed constitutional limits designed to keep the Legislative Branch from micro-managing the Executive Branch.

These bills, all of which I strongly opposed, would do three things:

1)  they would require CDC guidelines – nearly 200 altogether – to supersede any more stringent public health orders designed to keep the coronavirus in check.  In his order temporarily stopping this bill, the Franklin County circuit judge wrote that this legislation could “create chaos and undermine any effective enforcement of public health standards to prevent the spread of this deadly disease during the pandemic.”
2) The bills would limit a governor’s emergency orders to 30 days – a short-sighted idea in a pandemic that’s been with us and has needed managing for nearly a year, and
3) make it more difficult for the Executive Branch to adopt emergency administrative regulations.   Taken together, these veto overrides will lead to confusion, and put Kentuckians at greater risk.

Changes to teacher pensions:
House Bill 258 is a slap in the face to the teaching profession.  HB 258 passed out of committee and then the entire House in under five hours – lightning fast in legislative time.  The move was reminiscent of  2018’s “Sewer Bill” that sought to drastically reduce retirement benefits for teachers.  That legislation drew thousands of opponents to the Capitol, and was a major impetus for my decision to run for Kentucky’s House of Representatives. 
HB 258 would not affect current teachers or retirees, but it would change retirement for those hired in 2022 and beyond. Financial analysis of the bill wasn’t available until the night before the committee hearing and House vote.  What it shows is that new teachers would see their retirement benefits drop by more than $3.5 billion over the next 30 years.  That’s $119 million a year taken out of future teachers’ pockets.

JCPS and other school districts already face critical teacher shortages, and HB 258 will complicate that problem. Instead of reducing benefits, we should be looking for ways to boost teacher pay.

Lack of public participation:
Speedy legislative action on veto overrides, reductions to the KY Teacher Retirement System, and other concerns is particularly problematic at a time that the public is unable to be in the Capitol because of COVID-19 restrictions.  The legislative process is intended to be deliberate, not a high-speed operation designed to keep people in the dark until it’s too late for them to be  to be heard.

Some good news!  The Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health Project:
I’m honored to chair the Kentucky House Democratic Women’s Caucus, and proud of the work we’ve done on this project.  The need for policy changes is clear: the U.S. is ranked 55th for maternal health, last out of all wealthy nations.  Maternal mortality in Kentucky is two-and-a-half times worse than the national average, and a woman in the U.S. is more than twice as likely to die now from pregnancy-related complications than in 1987.  The maternal death rate in our country for Black pregnant women is 3-4 times higher than for non-Hispanic white women. 

The Maternal and Infant Health Project is comprised of 20 bills and resolutions to address this health crisis, and takes a multi-pronged approach aimed at 5 areas: Health Equity, Support for Families, Access to Care, Mental Health, and Pregnancy During Incarceration.  The bills are HB 283 – HB 291, HB 293 – HB 299, and resolutions HCR 37, HR 38-39, and HJR 40. 

To read more about the project: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/ky-general-assembly/2021/02/02/kentucky-maternal-morality-21-bills-proposed-expand-health-care-access/4347813001/, and here’s my op ed on the topic: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2021/02/05/kentucky-maternal-and-infant-health-project-calls-for-doulas/4397940001/

TV news coverage here: https://www.lex18.com/news/state-of-the-commonwealth/democratic-women-launch-plan-to-help-mom-babies

Casino-Style Slot Machines (aka “historic horse racing”)
Many Kentuckians are surprised to learn that “historic horse racing” is not horse racing at all, but casino-style slot machines.  While the Kentucky General Assembly has been at a standstill for years about expanding gaming, these slot machines have proliferated across the state, making astronomical profits for out-of-state and local casino corporations, and plans are already in place for continued exponential growth of these machines.  Every state that has allowed these machines has negotiated tax rates that benefit the hosting state and local municipality.  That has not been the case in Kentucky. 

Thirteen of my legislative colleagues and I contributed this op ed to explain the history and our perspective on the issue: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2021/02/05/historic-horse-racing-kentucky-should-raise-tax-rate-machines/4412150001/

We support Kentucky’s historic horse industry, and we expect the industry to support Kentuckians by paying its fair share. 

Update on HB 244:
The Tenth Amendment Center contributed this blog post about HB 244, my bill to demilitarize police forces: https://blog.tenthamendmentcenter.com/2021/02/kentucky-bill-would-limit-state-participation-in-federal-police-militarization-programs/

An excerpt: “Passage of HB244 would limit Kentucky’s participation in federal police militarization programs and create a framework of transparency. It would also create a foundation for the public to stop their local police from obtaining this type of gear. Arming ‘peace officers’ like they’re ready to occupy an enemy city is totally contrary to the society envisioned by the founders. They’ve turned ‘protect and serve’ into ‘command and control.”

We’re back in Frankfort tomorrow.  As always, I appreciate hearing your thoughts on these and other issues before the legislature.  Contact me by email, and you can leave a message for me – or any other legislator –  at 800-372-7181. 

Stay safe, be well,