Lots of Bad Policies Are About To Be Adopted in Kentucky
Charter schools in Louisville and Lexington but not really in the rest of the state. More freedom for neighborhoods in the Louisville area to separate from the formal Jefferson County-Louisville government. Requirements that students read Ronald Reagan speeches in school. Kentucky declaring itself a Second Amendment “sanctuary” state that won’t abide by federal gun laws. More restrictions on abortion rights, poor people’s ability to get public assistance and transgender athletes playing in grade-school sports.
The GOP-dominated Kentucky state legislature is finishing up its yearly session over the next few weeks—and all of that above is on the agenda. It’s not yet clear which of these bills will pass in the House and the Senate and become law. (The Republicans have huge majorities, so they can easily override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes.) It will be interesting to see what the Republicans’ true priorities are. Do they want to focus on attacking the city of Louisville; the poor; progressive views like a woman’s right to an abortion and a person’s right to choose their gender; Jefferson County’s public schools—or try to do all of that at once?
This legislative session is shaping up to be really terrible in terms of public policy—-but not all that different from the last couple of years here in Kentucky and in other GOP-dominated states around the country. There are three patterns that stand out, both here and nationally. There is the lack of disclosure about bills as they are being written and then a huge rush to pass them. This is bad, anti-democratic governance. The goal is to minimize the ability of journalists and the public to assess these bills in a real way, raise objections and push them to either be killed or reformed.
Secondly, there is the continued “owning the libs”---basically lots of policies that have little goal other than attacking Democrats. Kentucky already has a ton of abortion restrictions, students in school here are not reading Kimberle Crenshaw’s work on critical race theory.
Third, there is the constant redistribution of dollars in the wrong direction—tax cuts and subsidies for big businesses and the wealthy, combined with attempts to further curtail public benefits that particularly benefit low-income people.
I talked this week to Josie Raymond, a Democratic state representative who represents a district that includes the Hikes Point area, about what’s happened in the session so far and what she anticipates will happen in the next few weeks. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
Perry: Has anything good happened in a general public policy sense during this legislative session?
Josie: Maybe half or more of what we vote on is passed unanimously. And I think that's really lost. So here are some of the good things that we've been able to do so far.
We changed the car tax issue, where because of changes in the market for used cars, people's vehicle taxes were up like 40%.
We sent $200 million to Western Kentucky in tornado relief.
We granted death benefits to first responders who died due to COVID that they presumably got on the job. …
The Read to Succeed Act, which is going to invest in teacher training and best practices and learning how to read. And then we raised state police salaries [by] $15,000.
These things I think were all unanimous or close to it. And this is immediate benefits for Kentuckians.
Perry: So what has happened that is bad?
Josie: Well, the House budget. The House budget increased spending on nearly every single line item but for me it lacked vision. It lacked some sort of transformative investment that we have the once in a generation opportunity to make.
Perry: Because of the stimulus money, we had a big opportunity?
Josie: We have a record surplus of a couple billion dollars, that has never been seen before and probably will never be seen again.
And now you're seeing two proposals for that $1.1 billion, essentially. The Senate says, “Let’s do tax rebates. Let's send Perry a $500 check or a $1,000 dollar check.” The House is saying, “Let's cut the income tax rate from 5% to 4% and then eventually to zero.”
Perry: I assume you think neither one of those are the best idea for the money?
Perry: Okay. What would be your proposal?
Josie: Universal pre-K in Kentucky.
Perry: Okay. And that would cost about
Josie: About $300 million.
Perry: Oh, so that wouldn't even spend the whole amount?
Josie: No. We could do more than three years of universal pre-K in Kentucky, which would give us enough time to prove its value. Then, I think we could restructure the budget to continue to fund it. … Right now we just give a small increase to every single line item in the budget. It doesn't change the status quo.
Perry: So we’re still in the bad category. What else?
Josie: Unemployment insurance. The House passed a bill and actually the Senate passed it too, to cut maximum unemployment benefits from 26 down to something that's determined based on six months worth of unemployment rate. Most of the time it'd be 12 weeks. Basically to cut unemployment from 26 weeks to 12. And they say that's to increase workforce participation, which doesn't track because the people who get unemployment were just in the workforce.
Josie: We passed a bill to make school resource officers mandatory. Now a few years ago we passed this bill and said, but we're not going to fund it. And so then this year we passed a bill that said, no, you really, really, really got to do it. And then in a committee substitute, it said at the bottom, only if you can afford it.
Perry: I think I'm probably against police in schools as a broad concept, but explain your view. You and I don’t want to see school shootings obviously.
Josie: There's no data that shows that the single school resource officer stops school shootings. And there's a lot of data that shows that it makes kids feel more dangerous, more in danger. And then there's the school-to-prison pipeline, right? Where school resource officers are making arrests or intervening in what are disciplinary issues and turning them into criminal issues.
I taught in Indianapolis public schools and we had a police officer in the school and he routinely was body slamming black boys against lockers and floors for talking back or being late. And I don't want to see that in JCPS.
And my kids in first and second grade would not feel any safer with somebody walking around their school with a gun on their hip.
Perry: Okay. So what else bad?
Josie: We had an omnibus abortion bill. So what this would do is make it more difficult for minors to seek abortions with or without parental approval. It would make it more difficult to get medication abortion, which is the set of two pills that a woman can take in her home. …It mandated the cremation of fetal remains, which some abortion providers say could put them out of business because it's so cost prohibitive.
Perry: What's next? What's coming up?
Josie: We're going to make Kentucky a second amendment sanctuary state. The House is going to do it this week.
Perry: Good God. Basically it means that there are no gun regulations or what does that really mean?
Josie: Yes, yes. … My whole thing, gun violence is a public health crisis. We should have passed my bill to allow Louisville to set its own gun regulations, right? To be nimble, to protect our children. …. So we're going to do that. The 15-week abortion ban . … We're going to ban trans girls from playing middle school sports. You hear about the trans athlete bill? The Kentucky version just applies to trans girls and it just applies to middle school because there's already a ban in effect on high school athletes.
Public assistance cuts. This is House Bill 7, just came out. …. I think it's going to prevent people on public assistance from buying alcohol and vape pens and stuff with their assistance
It’s just like a war on the poor.
I guess we're going to undo the merger essentially of city and county government to allow anywhere with 6,000 people who vote 75% to become a small city or to be annexed by a city. Just pay some additional taxes for some additional services in that area, but they'll pay less to Louisville Metro.
Perry: This is like breaking the city down, right? I mean, this is a real big thing, right?
Josie: It's a real big thing. And what it is, is our four Louisville Republicans, Jason Nemes, Jerry Miller, Kevin Bratcher and Ken Fleming. It's all four of them, it's their bill. …. I live in Louisville. I want a strong Louisville. And so I wonder if there's not something generational there. Hikes Point is not going to become a small city. And so then our library funding suffers, our jail funding suffers, our collective services suffer. So that's the argument there, but I guess we're going to do it.
The last bad thing that we're going to do is fund charter schools. So, by fund charter schools, that means we're going to permit SEEK funding to go to charter schools. There are three for-profit charter management organizations who are now lobbying. …There's no caps on authorizers … we're permitting out-of-state board members. If a kid wants to play sports, they can play on the district team for free. Just the charters get a proportional amount of all federal state and local funding that districts get.
Oh, speaking of Louisville, it says if it's a district under 5,000 kids, the district has to approve the charter. So it's very unlikely they would in 149 districts in Kentucky. In the districts with more than 5,000 children, charters can be approved there by KDE, a mayor, a county judge executive, a nonprofit that can be religious, a college, like anybody, Perry, you can approve it.
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