Session Update: Weeks 4 & 5

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the General Assembly. Just as it did for many Kentuckians, the arrival of what is hopefully the last major storm of winter put an early end to the General Assembly’s work week last Thursday. The legislature reconvenes on February 7th at 4pm, but here are some highlights from the past several legislative days.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

On January 27th, I was honored to be the primary cosponsor for a resolution in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Resolution called on all of us to reflect on the moral responsibilities of individuals, societies, and governments. My remarks were as follows:

Today marks the day that Auschwitz was liberated in 1945, after years of systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder. As today’s resolution states: “the history of the Holocaust offers an opportunity to reflect on the moral responsibility of individuals, societies and governments.”

Let us take this opportunity to not just remember, but to learn about and learn from an atrocity that did not happen overnight, but over the course of 12 years.

That did not occur in a vacuum, but required both active participants and silent bystanders.

Bureaucracies, departments, agencies, institutions, and individuals who all worked to establish and implement lawful policies that resulted in the deaths of six million Jewish people, and millions more based on their ethnicity, religion, skin color, sexual orientation, political beliefs, physical or intellectual disabilities, mental illness, poor people, those without homes. Millions of men, women, children, elders.

The ties that bind us together as human beings are easily broken. But they are rarely broken collectively or all at once. They are broken person by person, little by little, day by day.

Every day, each of us chooses to strengthen them or weaken them, and we must pledge to a constant personal vigilance, to stand together against enduring hatred.

Because as soon as we allow ourselves to think of our fellow men as separate, as apart…as OTHER … than us, atrocities become possible.

But we are not doomed to repeat history if we choose to learn from it. In looking back, we can find a better way to move ahead, and do what we can in our own lives to strengthen those human bonds, and pledge our part in ensuring that such hatred is not given another moment in history.

Here is a link to my remarks on the House floor: https://www.facebook.com/KYHouseDemocrats/videos/641493217000899, and here is a link to the full Resolution: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/22rs/hr49.html

Legislation Passed by the House

To re-purpose a popular phrase, there are many bills considered each legislative session that may not mean much to the world, but they may mean the world for those who benefit. The Kentucky House of Representatives put its unanimous support behind several that hopefully will become law.

House Bill 127, for example, builds on what is known as “Tim’s Law,” which the General Assembly voted for in 2017.  The goal is to provide needed help for those with mental illness who, without court-ordered treatment, are cycling repeatedly through the criminal justice system, homelessness and hospitalization. Under this year’s legislation, mental health professionals would be called upon to perform more comprehensive evaluations, and the bill better defines who is eligible. About 40 states have shown the benefit of this approach, as has Kentucky in a more limited way.  The hope is that, with these changes, “Tim’s Law” can get more people the mental health services they require and the stable life they deserve.

Another bill the House passed unanimously also has ties to mental health. In this case, Senate Bill 100 would extend current law allowing residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to have at least one designated person who can visit while pandemic-related rules are in place. The legislation strives to find the right balance between a resident’s psychological and caregiving needs and the flexibility facilities must have to limit COVID infections.  I believe our approach so far has worked well and am glad that this bill is now on the governor’s desk, the last step before becoming law.

In another measure driven by COVID, House Bill 188, the House also voted unanimously for a small but important tweak to Kentucky’s still-evolving telehealth law, which has played a pivotal role in keeping many of us in contact with medical providers through our computers and smart phones. The main focus of HB 188 is to make it possible for providers and patients alike to take part in telehealth services if either one happens to be out of state temporarily.  This bill would sensibly end the requirement that both be physically within the commonwealth during a telehealth visit.

Also passing with universal support, House Bill 91 would give a financial break to many whose spouses are on active duty in the military.  Under, they would not be charged to receive or renew an occupational license, as long as they otherwise meet all other professional requirements. With Kentucky having a larger military presence than many states, this change would be another way to help those families are already making considerable sacrifices on our country’s behalf.

In addition, House Bill 56 would allow the families of first responders who die of COVID-19 in the line of duty to qualify for death benefits. If HB 56 becomes law, those families will receive a one-time, lump-sum payment of $80,000. Statute already defines first responders as police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, correctional officers and active duty Kentucky National Guard members. HB 56 is retroactive, meaning any first responders who have died due to COVID-19 complications since March 6, 2020, would qualify.

Sponsored Legislation

I have sponsored numerous bills this session, most notably House Bill 222, to establish a fair and expedient judicial process for all Kentuckians (which I wrote about here) and House Bill 83, to extend unemployment benefits to those experiencing domestic/dating/sexual/stalking violence (which I wrote about here). Both of these bills were heard in the interim and have strong bipartisan support. I am hopeful that they will move forward this session.

I’m also sponsoring the following important pieces of legislation this session:

Cannabis Decriminalization

House Bill 224 is a bill that decriminalizes possession of a personal use quantity of cannabis (up to 1oz or growing 5 plants at home), and provides for extensive expungement provisions. Any discussion about the legalization of cannabis, whether for medical or full adult use, must include these decriminalization provisions so that we do not continue the devastating impact that the failed war on drugs has had on black and brown communities for decades. This is an important step and one that we must take before we authorize cannabis use in our Commonwealth.

House Bill 225 amends the Kentucky Constitution to allow language to appear on the ballot so that every Kentuckian can decide whether they want to see cannabis decriminalized for those 21 and older. Kentucky is not a ballot initiative state, so this is the process necessary to put language on the ballot. It requires a constitutional majority (60%) in both the House and the Senate. While this is an uphill battle, it is the most direct way for voters to provide a clear mandate to their elected representatives.

Landlord/Tenant

House Bill 152 is the Revised Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RURLTA). The original URLTA was created in 1972, and only seven Kentucky counties have currently adopted it, including Jefferson County. We saw a sharp increase in the number of eviction filings during the pandemic, despite a moratorium for evictions due to nonpayment of rent. RURLTA lays out updated rights and obligations for both landlords and tenants, including notice provisions, rules pertaining to tenant property, legal evictions, habitable living conditions, to name a few.

House Bill 159 would seal eviction records from public view unless an actual judgment for eviction is entered by the court. Right now, any eviction filing, whether it is dismissed or denied, remains on renter records for background checks forever. This legislation would endure that eviction filings themselves do not become public record unless an eviction judgment is entered against an individual. After one year, that record is removed from public records.

House Bill 160 creates clear protections for tenant property, including inventory, notice, and storage provisions, so that tenant property cannot simply be set out on the curb illegally.

PFAS and Healthy Soils

House Bill 338 requires the Energy and Environment Cabinet to create regulations to monitor and regulate the amount of PFAS (Forever Chemicals) that are in our drinking water. This is a small, basic step to address an issue that impacts every single one of us and our future generations. PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s because of their useful properties. There are thousands of different PFAS, which can be found in drinking water, soil, food packaging, household and personal care products. PFAS have widespread health impacts including developmental issues in children, higher cancer risk, decreased fertility, hormonal disruptions, and reduced immune responses. PFAS are in the blood of virtually everyone on the planet, including babies in their mother’s womb. We must make a start to identifying, regulating, and ultimately eliminating the use of these toxic chemicals entirely.

House Bill 235 establishes a Healthy Soils Program and a Healthy Soils Program fund in the Department for Natural Resources and requires it to provide technical advice and assistance, assist with soil health assessments and soil health plans; provide financial assistance to incentivize soil health practices; require the Agriculture Water Quality Authority to promote soil restoration; and, add restoration, biological diversity, watershed health, and healthy soil practices to the purpose of soil and water conservation districts. The bill also includes an equity clause: “Priority for financial assistance shall be given to veteran farmers or ranchers, beginning farmers, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, as those terms are defined in 7 U.S.C. sec. 2279(a).”

You can find all my sponsored and cosponsored bills for the 2022 Legislative Session here: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/IndividualSponsorPages/432.html

In addition to these bills, I am also working on establishing a mechanism for employers to be able to pay employee student loans and earn a tax credit in the process. Student loan debt is crippling for so many Kentuckians, and this bill would be a step forward for both employers and employees.

As we approach the halfway point of the 60-day legislative session, I want to thank everyone who has contacted me with their views about these and many other bills.  There is still plenty of time to join them, if you’d like.  The toll-free message line for legislators is 1-800-372-7181, while my email is Nima.Kulkarni@lrc.ky.gov.

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