Local organizations hear update on the 2021 KY legislative session

BY VIRGINIA BIRNEY

TWN and KFTC

A program about the 2021 Kentucky Legislative session was held online and was jointly sponsored by local branches of The Women’s Network (TWN) and Kentuckians For the Commonwealth (KFTC).

The speaker, Jessica Hughes Lucas, has been a member of the organizing team of KFTC statewide since 2006. Currently she helps anchor KFTC’s grassroots lobbying and General Assembly work.

According to Lucas, the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing barriers to accessing the political process — lobbyists can only see what House and Senate leaders want them to see.

But there are also bright spots for KFTC in its legislative work: there has been a call for racial justice from across the state and KFTC has a small but effective set of legislative allies. One of these is the Democratic Women’s Caucus in the House with opportunities to leverage progressive power, especially for women and children. This Caucus has put together 21 bills for this legislature to consider, Lucas explained.

This year in Kentucky, a bill of particular interest is Breonna’s Law (HB 21), which was sponsored by Rep. Attica Scott.

It would ban no-knock warrants in Kentucky, and requires: police forces to pay for damage incurred in searches; drug and alcohol tests to be done within two hours of every shooting inciden; police force to gather information about who else lives in a home (such as persons with developmental disabilities, children, those who need special care); and police officers to wear identifying clothing and recording devices.

President Stivers in the Senate also has a similar bill that will be presented but it has not been assigned to a committee yet.

Another piece of legislation which is very popular across the state is the Voting Rights and Healthy Democracy Bill (HB 232). It has had a lot of momentum coming into the session, in part from the November 2020 election.

This is a good bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Nemes, which would restore voting rights to people with felony convictions in their past who are off paper (completed all court requirements) and off parole, Lucas said.

There is no 5-year waiting period as there was previously and fewer exclusions.  It has not been assigned to committee yet but the assumption is that it will be. 

Also, there is a fuller slate of other good democracy bills, including one on expanded voting hours, Lucas said.

The Budget Bill, which involves the second year in a two-year budget, will be addressed toward the end of the session.

There is about $613 million left in federal COVID money. The governor proposes using it to: bolster public health, particularly in underrepresented communities such as Black and Brown communities across the state; update our neglected unemployment system; move toward “last mile” broadband grants in areas of the state that have been left behind; slightly increase spending for all levels of public schools;  give small raises to state workers and employees of K-12 schools; and grant $400 in state assistance to persons who made too little to qualify for federal assistance.

Lucas said this is not an exhaustive list of the governor’s proposals to stimulate the economy. Speculation is that the Republican supermajority wants the $613 million to go into the Rainy Day Fund but Lucas asked, “If it’s not raining now, when …..?”

To research bills of interest, a good bill tracker website is:

https://www.billtrack50.com/public/scorecard/summary/YuburhwENUxOshVNZDgg.

For those who want to share feedback with lawmakers at committee meetings, here is a new online approach which allows users to choose a bill from a list of those that have been assigned to the committees.

Fill in your contact information to have the request to testify automatically submitted to the correct committee.

The online application can be found at:

https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/committees/TestimonyRequestForm/

For more information on KFTC’s role in this legislative session, go to www.kftc.org/GA-events.

KFTC is a statewide grassroots organization working for a just society. Members use direct action to challenge, and change, unfair political, economic and social systems, and are committed to equality, democracy and nonviolent change.

The Women’s Network of Kentucky advocates for freedom and fairness. A primary mission is to establish and manage a citizen network to educate, motivate, advocate and activate Kentuckians in support of core democratic principles.