2022 Session Update: Week 3

Another cold, snowy week in the Commonwealth has come and gone. And so has the third week of the 2022 Regular Session.

Legislators returned to Frankfort on Tuesday after taking Monday off to observe the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. The short week was bookended by bipartisan legislation related to student mental health and the next biennial budget.

On Thursday, the House approved House Bill 1, the proposed executive branch budget, and House Bill 241, the proposed transportation budget. This is the first time since 2018 that the legislature plans to approve a two-year budget. Economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to shorter sessions and approval of one-year budgets in 2020 and 2021.

Sponsors of HB 1 and HB 241 believe the measures appropriately address Kentucky’s needs and make good use of taxpayer money. If you count every tax dollar that flows through state government – a figure that includes state and federal sources as well as restricted funds such as college tuition – the two-year total for the 2022-2024 budget cycle amounts to more than $118 billion. Bill sponsors said eight months of working with other lawmakers, various agencies, stakeholders and citizens went into drafting the proposals.

The proposed executive branch budget is expansive, and appropriations include investments in education, public safety, tourism, infrastructure and more.

As proposed, HB 1 does the following:

  • Fully funds full-day Kindergarten for every public school district
  • Increases SEEK funding for every student
  • Meets the actuarial requirements regarding the Kentucky Retirement System, the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System and the Kentucky State Police Retirement System
  • Gives a 6% pay raise to all state employees
  • Gives a $15,000 salary increase to all Kentucky State Police officers
  • Allocates $350 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds toward clean water projects
  • Funds raises for social workers and provides funding for additional social worker positions
  • Provides funding for facility repairs and improvements at public colleges and universities
  • Ensures funding for Medicaid growth
  • Appropriates $14.1 million to expand the senior meals program, and more

Sponsors of the proposed transportation budget say it would provide $100 million for local governments for repaving roads and fixing potholes, $200 million to match federal infrastructure grants and more.

This week’s House votes on the executive and transportation budgets are merely procedural so lawmakers can work on the bills in conference committee. It is likely these bills will undergo changes before the General Assembly considers them again later on in the legislative session.

The most important item missing from HB 1 is teacher raises. Instead, the state increases SEEK funding and covers more transportation costs, which would free-up money that districts can use for raises at their discretion. I would like to see teacher raises codified as they were for almost all other state workers, and am hopeful changes may be made in conference committee.

The House adopted the proposed executive branch budget by an 85-8 vote and the proposed transportation budget by a 90-4 vote. I voted for the budget bill because it included many broad areas of funding that I support, and will work to ensure that any overlooked areas will be reconciled as it is being finalized.

The Senate will take both bills into consideration before the formation of the conference committees.

Also this week

  • On Tuesday, the House unanimously adopted House Bill 44. This student-led effort and bipartisan bill would require local school districts to revise their attendance policies to allow a student’s mental or behavioral health status to qualify as an excused absence. The bill’s sponsors hope it will ease the stigma surrounding mental health. I wholeheartedly support this bill and voted to pass in in the House. HB 44 will now go before the Senate for consideration.
  • On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee approved House Bill 308. The measure, otherwise known as the Kentucky Rural Jobs Act of 2022, would allow insurance premium tax credits for capital investment companies that invest in small businesses in rural Kentucky. These businesses often have difficulty obtaining a loan or attracting investors on their own. In committee, I questioned whether there are any protections for existing Kentucky small businesses versus those that relocate to take advantage of the tax credit. There are not, and I have followed up with the sponsors to ensure oversight of this important allocation. The bill will now go before the House for consideration.
  • On Thursday, the House and Senate voted to override gubernatorial vetoes on House Bill 2, which establishes a new House district map, and Senate Bill 3, which establishes a new Congressional map.
  • Also on Thursday, the House State Government Committee approved House Bill 69, which would extend the executive order related to temporary disability from occupational exposure to COVID-19 from Sept. 7, 2021, to Jan. 31, 2023. The measure will now go before the House for consideration.

This coming week should see a return to more routine work as our committees continue approving a wide array of bills. We will reconvene on Monday at 4pm, and I will update you further on that work next time. For now, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any thoughts or concerns about this year’s legislative session.  The toll-free message line 1-800-372-7181, while my email is Nima.Kulkarni@lrc.ky.gov.

2022 Session Update: Week 1

The 156th session of the Kentucky General Assembly kicked off on January 4th, and legislators have two primary legislative priorities to resolve before it ends on April 14th. The first is state and congressional redistricting, and the second is passing the first full, two-year spending plan since 2018.

REDISTRICTING

The first week of session was spent addressing the first priority: Redistricting. So what is it?

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a head count of everyone in the U.S. Based on this count, new legislative and Congressional district maps are drawn, reflecting changes in our population and its demographics, to make sure that there is equal representation. The Census is directly tied to our representation in elected office, and is a vital foundation of our democracy.

Data from the 2020 census, delayed by the pandemic, was just released this August.

The results of the 2020 Census showed that many counties in the Commonwealth experienced dramatic shifts in population, requiring the state to update the state legislative and U.S. Congressional district maps. Generally, Eastern and Western Kentucky lost population, while there were gains made around Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green, and Northern Kentucky.

Unfortunately, Kentucky does not have an independent redistricting commission, so legislators basically draw their own maps. In an ideal world, there would be no political bias (such as protecting incumbents or making districts more politically viable for a given political party). In practice, redistricting is an intensely politicized process, and the fear is always that the end result will be that political parties choose their voters, instead of voters choosing their representatives.

Our Constitution requires ensuring districts are contiguous and compact. In addition, district maps cannot violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial gerrymandering that would in any way disenfranchise minority voters.

On December 30th, Republicans revealed essentially outlines of their proposed maps, which looked like this: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/note/22RS/hb2/RM.pdf

An unofficial, but much more detailed map of the new 40th District looks like this: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1rsNV998FQeD_wKF0auknZF7q9MpyLDop&shorturl=1&ll=38.202997425267576%2C-85.7785295&z=12

There have been many changes made to District 40, and the easiest way to check if you are in the new district is by checking your precinct number.

The list below is of precincts that are part of the new District 40:

Precincts remaining in the 40th District:

K110 – Precinct 110 40 District

K111 – Precinct 111 40 District

K112 – Precinct 112 40 District

K113 – Precinct 113 40 District

K114 – Precinct 114 40 District

K116 – Precinct 116 40 District

K117 – Precinct 117 40 District

K118 – Precinct 118 40 District

K119 – Precinct 119 40 District

K122 – Precinct 122 40 District

K123 – Precinct 123 40 District

K125 – Precinct 125 40 District

K131 – Precinct 131 40 District

K134 – Precinct 134 40 District

K135 – Precinct 135 40 District

K136 – Precinct 136 40 District

K137 – Precinct 137 40 District

K140 – Precinct 140 40 District

K141 – Precinct 141 40 District

K142 – Precinct 142 40 District

K143 – Precinct 143 40 District

K150 – Precinct 150 40 District

K151 – Precinct 151 40 District

Precincts Added from the prior 35th District:

H114 – Precinct 114 35 District

H115 – Precinct 115 35 District

H153 – Precinct 153 35 District

Precincts Added from the prior 37th District:

I107 – Precinct 107 37 District

I109 – Precinct 109 37 District

Precincts Added from the prior 38th District:

J101 – Precinct 101 38 District

J104 – Precinct 104 38 District

J107 – Precinct 107 38 District

J130 – Precinct 130 38 District

J146 – Precinct 146 38 District

J147 – Precinct 147 38 District

J154 – Precinct 154 38 District

Precincts Added from the prior 42nd District:

M105 – Precinct 105 42 District

M130 – Precinct 130 42 District

M148 – Precinct 148 42 District

M166 – Precinct 166 42 District

M169 – Precinct 169 42 District

M170 – Precinct 170 42 District

M171 – Precinct 171 42 District

Precincts Added from the prior 44th District:

O123 – Precinct 123 44 District

House Bill 2, which passed the House on Thursday and the Senate on Saturday, finalized the new House district maps. In addition, House Bill 179 establishes a new Kentucky Supreme Court district map. Both bills received final passage by the General Assembly on Saturday.

Lawmakers also approved on Saturday Senate Bill 2, which establishes a new Senate district map, and Senate Bill 3, which establishes a new Congressional district map. All four bills will now be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto.

I voted no on these maps due to the lack of public transparency and input in the redistricting process. It is simply not good government to rush through something which will have such a profound impact on democracy for the next decade in our Commonwealth.

Legislators also passed House Bill 172 this week, which moves the candidate filing deadline for every candidate filing for the 2022 primary election to Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. The original deadline was Jan. 7 at 4 p.m. This one-time postponement of the candidate filing deadline was to give lawmakers time to approve the new district maps and give candidates time to see the new maps before they file.

HB 172 was approved by an 84-12 vote in the House on Wednesday and by a 28-4 vote in the Senate on Thursday. Gov. Andy Beshear promptly signed the bill into law, which went into effect immediately due to an emergency clause attached to the bill. I voted for this bill because I believe that candidates should be able to fully assess their decision to run for elected office, with all available information and in all fairness.

THE BUDGET

As for the budget, Kentucky lawmakers typically vote on spending plans during even-numbered years. In 2020, economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic led legislators to pass two one-year budgets in 2020 and 2021.

This year, we hope to get back on the normal budget schedule, and will have 60 legislative days with an April 15 deadline to approve a budget for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 fiscal years.

House Bill 1, the executive branch budget; House Bill 241, the transportation budget; and House Bill 244, the judicial branch budget were all filed on Friday.

The Governor’s budget address to lawmakers will take place on Thursday, January 13th.

UPCOMING BILLS

The Senate Standing Committee on Education heard testimony on two bills this week: Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 25.

SB 1 is an act relating to school councils. Supporters of the bill say it will give the community more say in things like curriculum and principal selection. SB 25 would give school districts 10 more remote instruction days to use per school for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year. It also contains provisions to address staffing concerns in public schools.

Both bills were approved by the Senate Education Committee this week. The Senate approved SB 1 by a 25-9 vote on Saturday. It will now go to the House for consideration.

We are back to work on Jan. 10 for the sixth legislative day.

You can keep up with bills and votes by visiting the General Assembly’s website (legislature.ky.gov).  To leave a message for me or any other legislator (or all of us), you can call 1-800-372-7181.  This service is available during normal business hours throughout the year, but is open longer during legislative sessions.

If you would like to watch legislative proceedings, KET has an app for that, and you can also search for “LRC livestreaming” which will take you to the website where you can access meetings as they happen.  All are also archived.

In addition to leaving me a phone message, you also the have the option to email me at Nima.Kulkarni@lrc.ky.gov.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Kentucky’s Aviation Advantage

When it comes to flying people and products, few if any states have the reach that Kentucky does.

Legislators got a better view of that work earlier this month, when officials representing Louisville’s, Lexington’s and Northern Kentucky’s airports updated the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee about what is taking place at their sprawling facilities.

 At Louisville’s Muhammad Ali International Airport, UPS now has the largest automated package-sorting facility in the world, with 155 miles of conveyor belts capable of handling more than two million packages a day.  Only four airports around the globe ship more.

At the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, meanwhile, Amazon debuted its $1.5 billion hub project in August, and its neighbor, DHL Express, announced this summer that it was adding 1,100 jobs at its own hub, which will be a 25 percent increase in its workforce.  Five years ago, DHL wrapped up more than $100 million in upgrades.

Those airports and Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport – which celebrated 75 years of commercial flights on Wednesday – are investing heavily in their own operations, with the three spending more than a half-billion dollars on various renovations during the next several years.

In pre-pandemic times, the three airports served nearly 15 million passengers annually, supported 134,000 jobs and boasted an economic impact exceeding $18.2 billion a year.

As it has with airports around the world, COVID-19 continues to have an outsized impact on the number of people flying.  In October 2019, the three airports had 680,000 people flowing through their terminals, but that dropped to fewer than 29,000 in April 2020, their worst month by far.  This past July, however, was their busiest month since that low-water mark, with numbers approaching 600,000.

While our cargo capacity gets most of the headlines when it comes to aerospace, Kentucky has also become a major player in manufacturing the parts that help get the planes in the air.

We have nearly 80 companies dedicated to this industry, and they employ almost 20,000 people.  In 2019, they shipped more than $14 billion worth of parts to countries around the world, while was nearly half of our entire export market.

At the collegiate level, two of Kentucky’s postsecondary schools have a prominent profile in the field.  Morehead State University is one of just a handful of colleges in the country to offer a major in space system engineering – its students have flown seven small satellite missions, with plans for more – and Eastern Kentucky University has the commonwealth’s only four-year program training tomorrow’s pilots and airport managers.  It’s expecting to have 400 students enrolled by next fall.

Beyond this work, Kentucky can claim several pioneers who had a profound impact on aviation and space exploration.  Lee Atwood, a Boone County native, helped engineer many of the aircraft that proved pivotal during WWII and oversaw the Apollo program that put the first humans on the moon.

Solomon Lee Van Meter Jr., who was born in Fayette County, developed the backpack parachute in 1916; and astronaut Story Musgrave, who calls Lexington his hometown, is the only person to fly on all five space shuttles and was at one time the oldest person ever in orbit.  That title now belongs to 90-year-old William Shatner, the actor who rocketed into space this past week and who once had a home in Central Kentucky.

As much as we have accomplished when it comes to aerospace, there’s reason to believe even better days are ahead, since companies relying heavily on e-commerce are taking advantage of what our logistics systems have to offer.  In that sense, the sky truly is the limit for what our future holds.

If you have thoughts or questions about this or other issues affecting Kentucky, please let me know.  You can reach me by email at Nima.Kulkarni@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line for all state legislators is 1-800-372-7181.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As I have done each year since 2019, I will be prefiling legislation this month that that would extend unemployment insurance benefits to victims of intimate-partner violence, stalking and sexual assault. I presented this legislation, with my co-sponsor Rep. Samara Heavrin, to the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment last month. The bill provides a much-needed lifeline for those who are either fired or are forced to leave their job as a result of this abuse. I am encouraged by positive bipartisan response this bill has received, and hopeful that it becomes law during the 2022 legislative session.

Learn more about the bill here: https://www.wlky.com/article/unemployment-benefits-domestic-violence-sexual-assault-victims/37710745#

Watch the Committee presentation here:

Nationally, intimate partner abuse impacts 1 in 4 women, and1 in 9 men in their lifetime. In Kentucky, that number rises to 1 in 3 women and 1 in 8 men per year.

Stalking impacts 1 in 6 women nationwide, and 61.5% of these cases are related to intimate partner violence. For men, 1 in 19 will experience stalking, with 43% of cases related to intimate partner violence. In Kentucky, that number rises to 1 in 4 women, with 71% being related to intimate partner violence.

Nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men experience sexual violence in their lives.

These numbers are stark reminders of the urgent and desperate situation many Kentuckians find themselves in, and multiple studies have shown that unemployment is often related to domestic violence in a relationship.

Kentucky has been a leader when it comes to legislation that seeks to prevent domestic, dating, sexual, and stalking violence. In 1976, the General Assembly took a major step forward in trying to limit intimate-partner violence, when it passed a law requiring the public to report any known or suspected cases of adult abuse, neglect or exploitation. The following year, the YWCA in Louisville opened the commonwealth’s first shelter for those abused by an intimate partner, and by the mid-1980s, there was a shelter in all 15 area development districts.

The creation of domestic-violence orders (DVO) around the same time established a much-needed civil barrier between victims and those accused of harming them. Several years ago, the legislature built on this work by broadening the state’s protective-order system to include victims of dating violence, stalking and sexual assault.

Other related laws enacted over the past three-plus decades range from increasing training among law enforcement and toughening punishment for repeat domestic violence offenders to keeping insurance companies from discriminating against battered victims and ending an extensive backlog of untested rape kits. Kentucky was also the first state in the nation to notify those with a DVO that the offender had bought a gun or had been released from jail, and we also have a center at the University of Kentucky dedicated to studying ways to reduce violence against women.

BR 407 continues that work by helping to alleviate some of the pressure for Kentuckians who must leave their place of employment due to intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, or stalking. It would keep their coworkers safe, and provide some stability for their children.

As lawmakers, we must recognize the broad impact that abuse has on our families, and provide lifelines whenever and however we can.

If you are being abused or know someone who is, please do not hesitate to call those who can provide immediate assistance. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is (800) 799-SAFE (7233), and the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a lot of information as well, including numbers for our regional shelters. It can be found online at KCADV.ORG. For immediate emergencies, do not hesitate to dial 911.

If you have any questions or comments about this or other issues affecting Kentucky, let me know. You can email me at Nima.Kulkarni@lrc.ky.gov, while the toll-free message line for all state legislators is 1-800-372-7181.

Greetings from Louisville!

At 1101 Central Avenue in District 40, across the street from Churchill Downs, is the Greetings From Louisville mural. It was painted in October 2018 by muralist Victor Ving as part of his Greetings Tour public art project. The site was chosen because even though it is adjacent to one of the most iconic venues in Kentucky, “the immediate surrounding neighborhood did not often get the funding and love it deserves.” The owners of the property, John and Mary Kay Dixon reached out to the team with a goal to brighten up the neighborhood by adding a piece of public art for our community.

Thanks to John & Mary Kay for their engagement and initiative to improve a part of our district! Stop by and check it out!

“We originally reached out to Victor’s mural agency looking for some ideas on what to do with the blank wall that faced Churchill Downs. He told us about his personal Greetings Tour project, and we thought it would be a great fit for our community. Together, we came up with content that was relevant to our city and created a piece of public art that warmly welcomes locals and visitors to the neighborhood. They were incredible to work with! We beam every time we drive up to the mural, and cannot thank them enough.”— JOHN & MARY KAY DIXON

Learn more about the project here: https://www.greetingstour.com/murals/louisville

Letter Guide:

L — Kentucky Bourbon / Fleur De Lis

O — Kentucky Bourbon / Fleur De Lis

U — Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

I — Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

S — Big Four Pedestrian Bridge

V — Big Four Pedestrian Bridge

I — Louisville Cardinals / UofL Sports

L — Louisville Cardinals / UofL Sports

L — Churchill Downs / Kentucky Derby

E — Churchill Downs / Kentucky Derby

Unemployment Benefits for Victims of Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault

During the September meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development & Workforce Investment, Representative Samara Heavrin and I presented legislation that would allow those experiencing domestic, dating, sexual, or stalking violence to be eligible for unemployment benefits. I have filed this bill each session since 2019, and will be prefiling it again in October, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The bill ensures that a survivor of domestic, dating, sexual, or stalking violence who leaves work, or is unable to work, or separated from employment due to circumstances directly relating to that violence will still be eligible for unemployment benefits when the survivor:

  • Fears violence at or en route to workplace
  • Wishes to relocate to another geographic area to avoid violence to themselves, their family, or co-workers
  • Finds it necessary for future safety and health of themselves, their family, or co-workers

Survivors will provide documentation: police, court records; sworn statement; statement from shelter worker, attorney, healthcare provider, clergy.

The benefits are charged against the state’s pooled account, not an employer’s account.

Employees of the KY Office of Unemployment Insurance will be trained on domestic, dating, sexual, and stalking violence and benefits applications.

The Secretary will send an Annual Report to LRC of the number of claims filed.

We heard powerful testimony from Tanya Thomas, Executive Director of the Springhaven Domestic Violence Program, Jillian Carden, Executive Director of Silverleaf Sexual Trauma Recovery Services, Katie Showalter with the University of Kentucky. This legislation is the result of ongoing collaboration with the presenters, as well as the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, and the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

The Healing Place

This week, I was privileged to visit The Healing Place in Louisville, and got to listen to some incredibly difficult, heartbreaking, and inspiring stories from women who were taking their first steps in recovery. The mission of The Healing Place is to reach individuals suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, provide the tools for recovery, and restore meaningful and productive lives.

Every day, The Healing Place provides food, shelter, clothing, and recovery services to nearly 1,000 individuals at no cost, yet the program saves Metro Louisville taxpayers more than $13 million every year in judicial and prison costs and more than $7 million every year in emergency room visits and other healthcare costs. In addition, The Healing Place was recognized as a “Model That Works” by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The Healing Place model has been replicated in 14 Recovery Kentucky sites across the Commonwealth as well as sites in Richmond, Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina.

To learn more about the program, visit https://www.thehealingplace.org/.

There are many ways you can support the work of The Healing Place. Whether you are able to give a little or a lot, write a check or simply stop by with an unneeded household item, every little bit helps people struggling with addiction to find assistance and hope.

The Healing Place is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and all gifts are tax deductible. Below, you can find ways to help support this great program:

MONETARY DONATIONS

Checks can be mailed to:
The Healing Place
Development Office
1020 W. Market Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Donations can also be made online.

GIFTS OF APPRECIATED ASSETS

GIFTS OF LIFE INSURANCE

MATCHING GIFTS

PLANNED GIVING

IN-KIND DONATIONS

Donations are accepted Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm. Donations may be brought to the men’s campus at 1020 W. Market St. or the women’s campus at 1503 S. 15th St. You can also select items from the Amazon Wish List.

FACEBOOK FUNDRAISERS

Did you know that you can raise money for The Healing Place through your Facebook page? 100% of donations go directly to The Healing Place. Click here to get started.

SPECIALIZED DONATION DRIVES

If your business or organization is interested in conducting a clothing, coat, or hygiene item drive, please e-mail The Healing Place.

VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME

Fill out our volunteer application.

Where Y’all Really From?

For Immediate Release:

September 16, 2021

State Rep. Nima Kulkarni joins with Louisville Public Media & AAPI co-creators  to promote new podcast focused on Asian Americans in Kentucky

 LOUISVILLE – State Representative Nima Kulkarni, the first Indian-American to serve in the General Assembly, has teamed up with Louisville Public Media and three other co-creators to produce a new podcast focused on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Commonwealth.

            “I’m incredibly proud to work with community leaders like Charlene Buckles, Mae Suramek, and Dan Wu to create ‘Where Y’all Really From?,’” said Rep. Kulkarni. “The idea for this podcast really came from a desire to create a space where the Asian American experience, history, and perspective in Kentucky is highlighted. After hundreds of people showed up to support our AAPI community in the wake of the tragic shootings in the Atlanta area earlier this year, I felt that we needed a new way to continue those difficult conversations, and to try and combat the rise of anti-Asian and anti-immigrant hate in our communities, through shared stories and experiences.

            “I’m excited to join with Louisville Public Media and my friends to make this podcast possible and hope it draws a wide audience, because our story is not just for us to hear,” the Louisville legislator added.  “I know that the thousands of AAPI residents here in Kentucky will learn from and relate to this podcast, and will also know they are not alone.”

            “We are so excited to share the voices and stories of the AAPI community living and learning in Kentucky,” said co-creator Mae Suramek, who is a social entrepreneur and a restaurant owner in Berea.  “It’s been a long time coming. This podcast pushes the narrative of what it means to belong, what it means to be a Kentuckian.”

            The first two episodes of  “Where Y’all Really From” will premiere on September 21, and the remaining 10 episodes will be released weekly on Tuesdays.  The show will be available on Apple PodcastsSpotify and whereyallreallyfrom.org, and a two-minute promotional trailer has been posted.

          The hosts are Charlene Buckles, a Louisville-based activist and fundraiser with ACLU of Kentucky, and Dan Wu, a business owner and activist in Lexington.  They, Rep. Kulkarni and Mae Suramek are the podcast’s creators.

          The first episode features those directly involved with the podcast talking about their own experiences as Asian Americans in Kentucky, what the name of their show means and why conversations like this are important.

          The second episode will feature University of Louisville President Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, the first person of color to lead the university.  Their conversation, according to Louisville Public Media, examines why Asian Americans tend to be overrepresented in middle management but underrepresented in leadership positions.  They will also discuss why women and people of color often replace white male leaders during times of controversy.

          Other episodes will focus on Asian-American children living in rural Kentucky; the journey from refugee to Kentuckian; Asian American representation in pop culture; and the experiences that trans-racial adoptees have.

          “Where Y’all Really From” is the first podcast from Louisville Public Media’s Podcast Incubator, which is focused on developing podcasts for people not usually represented in public media.  Those include people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants and those of marginalized gender.

          “I want to thank Louisville Public Media for being such great partners in this podcast and for amplifying our voices this way,” Rep. Kulkarni said.  “My friends and I are looking forward to promoting those stories that too often are not heard but are such an important part of Kentucky’s own.”

          More information about the podcast can be found here:

FACEBOOK: https://fb.watch/7X6qeH-YNZ/

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/LPMupdates/status/1436309021405949968

WEBSITE: whereyallreallyfrom.org

SHOW CREDITS: https://louisvillepublicmedia.org/podcasts/whereyallreallyfrom/where-yall-from-team/

Special Session

On September 7th, the General Assembly was called in to a Special Legislative Session in response to a decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court in August, which allowed the legislature to significantly limit a governor’s executive authority to impose emergency health measures during the pandemic, including indoor mask mandates for K-12 schools, preschools and child care facilities.

The House and Senate met for three days, ending their work just before midnight on Thursday.  By the time the final gavel fell, the General Assembly had approved five bills and one joint resolution:

House Joint Resolution 1: Extending state of emergency to January 15, 2022

Senate Bill 1: Nullifying mask mandates statewide 

Not surprisingly, most of the debate centered on Governor Beshear’s and the Kentucky Department of Education’s ability to require face coverings, especially in schools and daycares.  I believe that’s an important tool, especially when the number of positive cases is starting to exceed 5,000 a day.

The legislation takes that statewide authority away, but maintains it locally.  All but 6 school districts in Kentucky, including our largest, have already said they plan to keep the masking requirements in place as it is CDC protocol for children ages two and up.

Schools will also be able to opt into test-to-stay programs that will ease the number of students and staff needing to quarantine if exposed.  This will help, but it likely will not be available where there are already critical medical shortages.  The cost could be prohibitive, too; statewide, expenses could exceed $60 million a week.

School Districts will have more remote-learning days to use and more flexibility in how they are implemented.  An attempt to make this fairer for large districts was turned down, however, meaning a system as large as Jefferson County Public Schools – with more than 150 facilities – will still lose a day of remote instruction even if only one classroom in one school needs it.

The legislation also extends many previously issued emergency executive orders, including easing rules so qualified out-of-state medical personnel can work in the commonwealth and public retirees and retired teachers can return to jobs where the need is greatest without sacrificing benefits.

Senate Bill 2: Banning future statewide mask mandates and nursing home visitor prohibitions

Senate Bill 2 declares the statewide facemask mandate void but encourage vaccinations, COVID-19 testing and greater access to monoclonal antibody treatments, such as Regeneron. I attempted to add an amendment that would provide a pause to organizations throughout the Commonwealth who are providing rental funds directly to landlords. This amendment was defeated on procedural grounds, but I will be introducing legislation that would allow for the backlog of over $300 million unused federal dollars to be disbursed as quickly as possible.

Senate Bill 2 also:

  • Requires Kentucky’s public universities to develop and initiate public awareness campaigns encouraging people to get vaccinated. One focus will be on developing partnerships with athletes, coaches and health care providers to promote the vaccine’s benefits.
  • Assists health care providers, jails, prisons, homeless shelters and local health departments in acquiring COVID-19 tests.
  • Makes it easier to administer the vaccine at the offices of primary care physicians.
  • Allows paramedics to work in hospitals to relieve a nursing shortage.
  • establishes safety protocols for so-called essential compassionate care visitors in long-term care facilities during pandemic-induced lockdowns. They could be a family member, legal guardian or close friend.

Senate Bill 3: Appropriating $69 million of ARPA funds for pandemic

These funds will be redirected to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health & Family Services to help health care providers, schools and others to implement provisions of SB 1 and SB 2. These include the purchase of COVID-19 tests, the establishment of regional monoclonal antibody treatment centers and test-to-stay programs in schools.

Senate Bill 4: No legislator compensation for veto days in special session

Senate Bill 5: Funding to lure Hardin County economic development project 

This bill appropriated $410 million of the $1.7 billion surplus towards economic incentives for projects valued at $2 billion or more. I passed on this bill in committee, and was the only one to do so, because I believe that we are stewards of taxpayer money and must have as much information as possible before appropriating funds like this towards economic development projects. Braidy Industries was fresh in most legislators’ minds. Ultimately, I voted for the bill, primarily because of the multiple levels of oversight and reporting built in to the legislation. I will continue to monitor how these funds are being used to ensure that we actually receive the economic development benefits touted with this bill.

There were benefits and shortcomings in all of these bills, and I welcome your thoughts or comments about the special legislative session.  My email is Nima.Kulkarni@lrc.ky.gov, while the toll-free message line for all state legislators is 1-800-372-7181.

Uniform Public Expression Protection Act

During the August meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary, Representative Jason Nemes and I presented anti-SLAPP legislation before Senate and House committee members. I have filed anti-SLAPP legislation since 2019, and am very encouraged that it is moving forward in the legislative process. This particular legislation reflects extensive research and best practices that the Uniform Law Commission put into crafting a model bill in 2020 for consistent use in courts nationwide.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) are complaints filed to intimidate individuals and deter them from speaking out in public forums. This threat of costly, long-term litigation has been used to silence whistleblowers, journalists, and political protestors across the country. Examples of SLAPP suits range from restaurant owners threatening defamation suits against customers who leave negative reviews on a website and developers suing citizens protesting the use of eminent domain in their neighborhood. Even sexual assault victims have been threatened with SLAPP suits in an attempt to silence them from going public.

Over twenty states have passed free speech laws designed to counteract this phenomenon and protect peaceful protests and rigorous journalism from frivolous, bad faith lawsuits designed to silence speech. In many of these states, anyone who is subjected to a SLAPP can petition a judge to immediately dismiss the case if their speech dealt with a matter of public concern. However, in many states these laws are still narrowly written. Kentucky is one of the handful of states with no legal protections against SLAPP suits, and the state legislature must work to pass a law that protects the people of Kentucky from these meritless suits.

We should make it easier, not harder, for all Kentuckians to participate in civic life and exercise their First Amendment rights. By passing these new protections, Kentucky will be a leader in protecting free speech rights. We can accomplish this by passing legislation that:

  • Allowing judges to dismiss SLAPP suits that target constitutionally protected speech
  • Requiring courts to adjudicate the suit within a reasonable period of time
  • Allowing judges to award attorney’s fees and costs to the victim of a SLAPP suit to deter future frivolous litigation

This bill has broad bipartisan support, and organizations like the ACLU, Americans for Prosperity, Pegasus Institute, Kentucky Open Government Coalition, Kentucky Press Association, and Public Participation Project all support it strongly.