This past week, we celebrated National Public Schools Week 2020. Nine out of 10 students in the U.S. attend our public schools, and it is only public schools that have as their mission and charge to serve every child, regardless of ability, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, language, religion, country of origin, or any other factor. It’s vital for our democracy that we adequately support our public schools, and in the Kentucky Constitution, the state legislature is explicitly charged with doing just that. I was excited to meet up with a great group of JCPS students from Luhr Elementary School during their tour of our State Capitol during National Public Schools Week! (Photo above)
Also in Frankfort this week was the 20th annual 874K Rally, with hundreds in attendance to represent and speak up for the 874,000 Kentuckians living with disabilities. The rally presented, among other things, a stark reminder of how difficult the Capitol and Capitol Annex can be to navigate for those whose disabilities include challenges with mobility. I’m grateful to all who attended and spoke up for disability rights, despite those difficulties.
I filed a bill and a resolution this week that land at the intersection of public education and disability rights. They are:
HCR 110 (House Concurrent Resolution) relates to access by exceptional students to all educational opportunities, and encourages legislators to consider the impact on students with special needs when adopting any education policies. I was honored that House Education Committee chairperson, Rep. Regina Huff, signed on as my primary co-sponsor of this bipartisan resolution.
HB 518 would ensure that exceptional students have equal access to the full range of educational programs, including dual credit and career training courses. The bill also adds a definition for “twice exceptional” students, to include students who are identified as “gifted and talented” in addition to at least one other form of exceptionality.
With the bill filing deadline on March 2, these are the last two pieces of legislation that I will be introducing this session. In other news…
In this budget session, bills have passed in both the House and the Senate that have significant costs attached to them. Until this week, neither chamber had passed any bills that would raise revenue. Fortunately, that changed this week:
HB 32 passed the House by a vote of 75-17. This bill adds an excise tax on e-cigarettes ,and raises the tax on other tobacco products including chewing tobacco and snuff. HB 32 is a much-needed revenue generator, and is good health policy as well, since evidence shows that as tobacco costs rise, consumption declines. According to a statement from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, e-cigarettes or ‘vapes’… “have been aggressively marketed to our children and likely have addicted more than 18,000 teens in Kentucky, conservatively speaking.” (https://www.healthy-ky.org/newsroom/news-releases/article/423/kentucky-house-passes-e-cig-tax-bill?)
Thank you to the many, many people who have continued to send messages and come to Frankfort to speak out against SB 1, anti-immigrant legislation, and SB 2, that will make voting more difficult. Both of these bills have passed in the Senate. SB 1 is awaiting a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. I’m grateful to the 300+ faith leaders from across Kentucky who have signed on to a powerful letter opposing SB 1. (https://forwardky.com/over-300-faith-leaders-condemn-anti-immigrant-bills-in-letter-to-kyga/)
SB 2 has passed out of two House Committees and could be called for a vote in the House at any time.
Here’s a quick health update:
On Thursday, the Governor and public health officials updated the General Assembly on the potential impact of the coronavirus on Kentucky. The number of cases in the country are extremely small, and there have been none in Kentucky. Should that trend change, however, the state is ready to act, if there needs to be emergency funding or an update in law, such as limiting price gouging for healthcare needs.
In the meantime, it is important to take the same precautions we do with the flu, which currently is the bigger risk: Wash your hands regularly; stay home if you are sick; and limit contact like handshakes.
We expect to see the majority party’s version of the state budget at some point in the week ahead. I will continue to keep you updated!
State Representative Lisa Willner
P.O. Box 17454
Louisville, KY 40217