Legislative Update 3/19/2023

Hello friends,
What a sad week in Frankfort, for people all across Kentucky, and for democracy.   The Marc Murphy cartoon above sums it all up pretty well.

In what the Fairness Campaign’s Chris Hartman accurately called “an 11th hour cheap trick,” the Kentucky legislature presented and passed a last-minute amended version of Senate Bill 150. The original SB150 was arguably the least horrible of a series of horrible anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed this session.  The version the legislature passed on Thursday, however, is now a Frankenstein’s monster of a bill that is an anti-trans, anti-education, anti-mental health, anti-medical science, and anti-economic development bill all rolled into one.

In the dirtiest of dirty tricks, the revised bill was voted on in a last-minute unscheduled meeting of the House Education Committee.  Fellow Democratic members of that committee and I received no notice of the meeting, and found out about it accidentally and indirectly, making it clear that we – and all the people we represent – were meant to be excluded.  (I was literally running to the committee room as the roll was called, and got there in time to shout “here” from just outside the committee room. A motion was made and seconded to approve the bill before the presenters said a word, and my and others’ questions to try and clarify what was in the version of the bill that we’d had no time to review were responded to dismissively.)

It’s remarkable that with the majority party holding 80% of seats in the Kentucky House, they could still only pass this wretched bill by using dishonest tactics and flouting agreed-upon norms and the rules of open government.

Senate Bill 150’s final version aligns Kentucky with states like South Dakota, Tennessee and Florida that have sought to erase trans kids entirely while undermining others in the LGBTQ+ community.  Advocates for mental health, public schools, civil liberties, healthcare, and LGBTQ+ rights have called SB 150 the “most extreme anti-LGBTQ+ bill in the country.”

The bill would ban puberty blockers and other gender-affirming care; add significant liability risks for healthcare providers; erode student confidentiality; prohibit gender-affirming care by licensed mental health professionals working in school settings; allow schools to ignore a student’s preferred pronouns; ban sex education prior to middle school; prohibit health education for every grade level that includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression; create an “opt-in” for sex ed at all grade levels.  And the bill includes language aligned with North Carolina’s misguided and notorious “so-called bathroom bill [that] sparked a nationwide backlash that wreaked havoc on the state, causing far-reaching political and economic damage,” according to NBC News.

While Kentucky faces a critical teacher shortage, the bill creates new challenges and uncertainty for educators.  While we face a mental health crisis, particularly for young people, this legislation interferes with mental health services in schools and exacerbates the significant mental health risks already facing our kids, especially trans kids who are already at high risk for suicide. With Kentucky at the bottom of many health rankings, and with healthcare providers in too-short supply, the bill inserts politicians into private healthcare decisions and criminalizes the practice of medicine.  While the majority party has gutted Kentucky’s most reliable revenue source by adopting discredited tax policies, this bill puts Kentucky at even greater economic risk.

Every major medical and mental health association opposes this legislation.  Teacher and education groups oppose this legislation.  Leaders in the business community oppose this legislation.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled organizations pushing this agenda as hate groups.  As I said on the House floor when we debated an earlier version of this bill (HB470), “We are making public policy that affects every Kentuckian based on the agenda of known hate groups. That’s not just wrong, it’s downright terrifying.”

While the General Assembly dedicated a massive chunk of time to the proposals in Senate Bill 150, we somehow could not find a fraction of that same energy to address Kentucky’s number one ranking in child abuse or to mitigate maternal and infant mortality rates that are among the worst in the country.

Demonstrating compassion and political courage that is all-too-rare in Frankfort, Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass issued a statement on Friday: “The Kentucky legislature is following a terrifying, but sadly well-trodden path. In the long run, history does not reflect well on such regimes. And in the short-run, we should all be concerned about who will be their next target.”  Dr. Glass ended his statement on a hopeful note, announcing that the Kentucky Department of Education will host a summit in support of LGBTQIA+ people and youth later this year. “Our focus will be on resilience, connection and hope,” he said.

I take heart from his closing words.  As we continue the battle for civil rights, for reason, and for fundamental human dignity, my hope for those of us on the right side of history is that we remain resilient, build on our connections, and spread hope that, in the end, love will win.

For now, if you or someone you know is struggling, please call or text the national mental health crisis hotline at 988, or visit The Trevor Project‘s help line.  
Contact me…

As always, thank you to those who’ve contacted me throughout the legislative session.  We are on a veto recess now, and will be back to finish up this year’s brutal session on March 29 and 30.

To reach me, you can respond directly to this message, and my official Frankfort email is Lisa.Willner@lrc.ky.gov.  The phone number to leave messages for me or any other legislator is 800-372-7181.
Sending love and light in challenging times,