Are we there yet? Not quite, but we’re getting closer.
The first 30 days of the 60-day 2022 legislative session have flown by. Time is ticking as lawmakers in the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate work quickly to meet Tuesday’s deadline for bill requests.
More than 500 bills have been introduced on the House floor since the first legislative day on Jan. 4. While not every bill will receive a committee hearing or come to a vote on the House floor, 24 pieces of legislation were heard in the House just this week.
A bill that I have worked on since 2019 passed the House unanimously on Friday. House Bill 222, which is the first anti-SLAPP legislation introduced in Kentucky. The Uniform Public Expression Protection Act safeguards the First Amendment in courts by creating a special motion to dismiss certain civil lawsuits that are used strategically to intimidate, censor or silence those who speak out against a matter of public interest or concern.
These are called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP. The goal of these lawsuits is to silence the person speaking out by burdening them with a lawsuit that is costly to fight.
This bill has been developed and improved through numerous discussions with attorneys, legal scholars, and stakeholders, and addresses many complicated concerns about the judicial process. I am thankful to my colleagues who voted to pass this important legislation, which now goes to the Senate for consideration. This was truly a bipartisan effort, and I am hopeful that this collaborative spirit continues throughout this session.
On Tuesday, House members debated House Bill 63 and the merits of school resource officers (SROs). HB 63 is a follow up to Senate Bill 1 (the School Safety and Resiliency Act) from the 2019 Regular Session. SB 1 required school districts to assign at least one SRO to each school in a district as funds and qualified personnel become available.
HB 63 would require schools who can place an SRO at each school to do so by Aug. 1. If sufficient funds and qualified personnel are not available, the bill directs the school district to work with the state school security marshal at the state Center for School Safety to address those issues.
I voted against this measure after hearing from teachers and students in our district who would not feel safer having armed officers at school, as well reviewing data on the disproportionate disciplinary treatment of students of color. The bill also undercuts local decision-making and creates another unfunded mandate for our already stretched school districts. HB 63 cleared the House floor by a 78-17 vote.
I also voted against House Bill 4, which would cut the time that Kentuckians can collect unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to as little as 12 weeks under certain circumstances, and forces them to accept positions in a one-size-fits-all approach.
I voted against this measure because it penalizes those who are actively looking for work, and assumes that people can be plugged in to open jobs without regard to wage rate, job requirements, education/experience, or career goals. The bill also disregards those Kentuckians with disabilities who may need supportive employment as well as second chance employment for those with prior records. Colleagues in rural areas spoke out strongly against this measure as well, citing a lack of jobs in their communities.
The House voted on several other measures that I supported, which will now advance to the Senate, including:
House Bill 250— This bill would allow the state to loan $23 million to Kentucky State University to help the struggling university meet its financial obligations this fiscal year. HB 250 directs the Council on Postsecondary Education to create and oversee a management improvement plan and a loan repayment plan for KSU. The bill moves to the full Senate for consideration after an 82-7 vote in the House.
House Bill 220— Intimidation of a sports official would become a Class A misdemeanor under this bill. This includes threatening, injuring or causing physical damage to the property of a sports official. The House approved this bill by an 89-6 vote.
House Bill 397— This bill would allow the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education to waive up to 15 student attendance days for school districts in the major disaster declaration counties impacted by December’s tornados. This bill passed unanimously.
It’s impossible to predict what will become law and what will have to wait another year in the handful of weeks the General Assembly has left. The only thing I know for sure is that your input is crucial in this process.
You can always leave me a message each weekday at 1-800-372-7181, and my email is Nima.Kulkarni@LRC.KY.gov. If you would like to read the bills I’ve mentioned, they can be found at Legislature.Ky.Gov.
Due to the Presidents’ Day holiday on Feb. 21, the Kentucky General Assembly will not convene on Monday. Both chambers return to Frankfort Tuesday and will reconvene at 4 p.m.