Last week in Frankfort was a rough one. The House passed House Bill 3, a proposal that presumes guilt before adjudication and would require incarceration of more youth and take away judicial authority and discretion. The bill includes a $39 million appropriation for detention facilities without investing one penny in strategies that have worked elsewhere to increase public safety: intervention, prevention, re-entry services, alternatives to detention, and wraparound services for youth and families. HB538, a school discipline bill, also passed the House this week.
HB538 would require, rather than allow, school expulsion and would significantly increase failed exclusionary discipline policies. Both of these bills offer band-aids for serious symptoms, and ignore altogether the underlying causes of the problems the sponsors say their bills are designed to address. For those of us concerned about the “school to prison pipeline,” the interrelatedness of these two bills is cause for grave concern.
As problematic and short-sighted as these bills are, they do not live up to the sheer mean-spiritedness of HB470 – a bill that would criminalize medical practice, threaten mental health, and make evidence-based gender-affirming care illegal for minors across our state.
HB470 and measures like it are opposed by every legitimate healthcare and mental health association in the country. Many of those experts came to Frankfort to testify against the bill and to warn of its dangers. Young people and family members of those directly affected also showed up to plead for the defeat of this dangerous bill, but their heartfelt testimony fell on deaf ears.
While disregarding the testimony of health policy experts, mental health advocates, as well as those who warned against economic backlash, HB470’s primary sponsor repeatedly made reference to and drew talking points from disreputable and extremist sources such as the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) and the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds). AAPS is described by Media Bias/Fact Check as “an extreme right questionable source based on the promotion of quackery level pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, use of poor sources, lack of [funding] transparency, as well as numerous false claims, and failed fact checks.” And the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies ACPeds as a hate group, describing it as “a fringe anti-LGBTQ hate group that masquerades as the premier U.S. association of pediatricians to push anti-LGBTQ junk science, primarily via far-right conservative media…”
The legislature is charged with making public policy decisions that will have an impact on the lives of everyday Kentuckians. It is beyond disheartening that the majority of our body is making decisions on the so-called “authority” of pseudoscience, conspiracy theorists, and hate groups. As I said on the House floor, this is not only irresponsible, it is downright terrifying. HB470 passed overwhelmingly on the House floor along party lines – with the exceptions of three northern Kentucky Republicans (Reps. Moser, Banta, Dietz) who voted no along with me and the rest of the minority party. The bill is now headed to the Senate. (You can watch the archived footage of the HB470 debate on the House floor, beginning at the 40’40” mark.)
There was some good news out of the House last week with several bipartisan bills receiving unanimous support:
House Bill 331 would expand the availability of life-saving automated external defibrillators in our middle and high schools.
House Bill 21 would make it easier for Kentuckians without a permanent address to renew or replace their driver’s license.
House Bill 231 would strengthen criminal-history record checks for those in homes where social workers make emergency placements of children.
In the Media …
At least one of my proposed bills was in the news this week: HB 246 would remove the statute of limitations in civil cases for child sexual abuse. This is important because while many cases of child sexual abuse are never disclosed, the average age of those who do come forward is 52. Here’s a story from WDRB.
As the session winds down, the possibility of this and several other important measures gaining traction this year continues to decrease.The General Assembly will return to the Capitol tomorrow, and will meet for four days this week and four more days next week before a 10-day veto recess that allows the Governor time to accept or reject bills. The final two days of the 2023 session take place at the end of this month.
To contact me about these or any other bills or topics, you can email me at Lisa.Willner@lrc.ky.gov. You can also leave a message for me or any other legislator by calling 800-372-7181 during normal business hours.