NEWS & UPDATES

Session Update: 2 days left!

When it comes to the state budget, which the General Assembly overwhelmingly approved on Wednesday, it can be easy to get lost in the numbers. No other legislation, however, better determines our priorities. It is, as one legislator said, our moral document.

I voted for it because I think it moves Kentucky in the right direction, a decision made even easier by the fact that it’s the first budget in 16 years not needing any cuts. At the same time, there are areas where I think improvements should have been made.

There are actually several budget bills, with one for each branch of government and others for transportation. Overall, they total about $118 billion, which includes state and federal revenues and restricted funds like college tuition that have to be spent where they’re generated.

About 90 percent of that money goes to four things: education, health and human services, criminal justice and capital projects like new buildings and repaved highways.

Since the start of the pandemic a little more than two years ago, the budget has benefited greatly from several federal stimulus packages, and one of the most sizable is the American Rescue Plan Act that became law in early 2021.

The General Assembly spends about $1.16 billion of our remaining ARPA funds in the upcoming budget, and within that total are $250 million for water/wastewater improvements; $242 million to help repay the federal loan used to cover unemployment insurance benefits at the height of the pandemic; $169 million for schools with urgent facility needs; and $75 million apiece to help non-profits and to boost tourism in the commonwealth.

Other big-ticket items scattered in the budget are $200 million to overhaul the state fairgrounds in Louisville; $170 million to do the same for many of our state parks; and $250 million for our already sizable “Rainy Day” fund, which is nearing $2 billion, a number far higher than it ever was pre-COVID.

I certainly support having strong reserves to cushion any future economic downturn, but I believe much of this additional deposit could have been better spent drying up the numerous rainy days we’ve already had. That’s especially true with monthly state revenues continuing to easily outpace projections.

Educators, for example, weren’t given raises at all in the budget, even as state workers are set to get an 8 percent salary increase next fiscal year and another as high as 12 percent in the budget’s second year. There are also additional, and deserved, salary bumps for social workers, Kentucky State Police personnel and Judicial Branch employees.

Republican leaders said schools could provide raises through the additional money the state is sending them, but given inflation and other costs, there’s no guarantee that this will happen. I believe the previous Republican House Speaker was correct when he tweeted this past week that not providing a much-deserved raise for teachers is “the biggest smackdown and slap to public education in history.”

State government retirees also won’t get a cost-of-living allowance – their last one was in 2011 – and first responders and frontline essential employees won’t get COVID-related bonuses that other states and communities have awarded.

In education, the budget continues funding all-day kindergarten, something that began in August. The state only paid for half-days before then, although most school districts covered the rest.

In addition to that extra money for kindergarten, per-pupil funding will rise from the current $4,000 to $4,100 next year and then $4,200 the year after that. On the downside, there is still no money for universal pre-K for four-year-olds, and schools also don’t have money for things like textbooks and professional development.

Under the broad heading of health and human services, the budget authorizes 100 additional slots for two programs that help Kentuckians with intellectual or developmental disabilities live more independently. This is definitely good news, but it is nowhere near enough to address waiting lists measuring in the thousands.

Other programs getting a sizable boost in the new budget are schools’ family resource and youth services centers, public health departments and employee-based childcare.

In transportation, the state’s Road Fund makes progress toward expanding the Mountain Parkway and building new Ohio River bridges in Northern and Western Kentucky.

Looking ahead, the General Assembly has approved a tax reform plan that’s similar, but less extensive, than what the state House originally proposed earlier this year. Assuming the current plan is enacted, the state’s flat five percent personal income tax rate is scheduled to drop by a half percentage point in 2023. To help fill in part of that gap, the 6 percent sales tax will be extended to an array of services, including most paid parking; ride-share programs like Uber and Lyft; photography services; renting spaces for events like weddings and conventions; and cosmetic surgery.

Over the long term, Republicans want consumption-based taxes to be the primary source of state revenues, and their tax-reform plan will move further in that direction if spending targets are met and legislators approve.

It is worth pointing out, however, that our current mix of sales, income and property taxes and lottery revenues has provided one of the most stable systems among the states this century, and that has insulated us during wide economic swings.

States without an income tax also have much higher sales taxes than ours on average, and they have built-in advantages, too. Alaska and Texas can rely on sizable energy reserves, while Florida and Tennessee have much larger tourism industries than ours.

There were of course many other bills approved by the General Assembly this year, and like the budget, they, too, will have a major impact on us going forward. I will cover those more in-depth in the next few weeks.

At the moment, other legislators and I are back home for what we call the veto recess. When we return to the Capitol on April 13th and 14th, we’ll review what bills have been vetoed by the Governor and decide whether any remaining ones should also become law.

I want to thank those who have reached out during this legislative session, and encourage you to keep letting me know your thoughts and concerns. My email is Nima.Kulkarni@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free messenger line is 1-800-372-7181. It’s open during normal business hours around the year.

Session Update: Week 7

Even before the General Assembly arrived at the Capitol in early January, everyone knew the biggest issues would be legislative redistricting, the state budget and tax reform.

The first two have followed predictable, if not always preferred, paths, but the parameters of tax reform have only started to take shape in the last few weeks.

On Friday morning, the House debated House Bill 8, which would have a profound and permanent impact on state revenues.  If enacted, it would send Kentucky into the same choppy waters that, as several other states have found, do not lead to smooth sailing.

The House approved the legislation on Friday, a mere week after it was introduced; and even as the bill was being debated, no one could accurately say what it would cost or offer more than anecdotal evidence that it would actually work. It had only been heard in committee the afternoon before, and multiple rules of procedure had to be waived in order to have the measure heard so quickly.

In short, the legislation would shift Kentucky’s revenues more toward sales taxes and away from the income tax, which provides 40 percent of our $14 billion annual budget.

House Bill 8 leans heavily on a billion-dollar surplus left unspent in the budget the House approved in January. That may be good for one year, but the costs in this bill are recurring and will dig a hole in state spending far faster than the bill’s revenue measures will ever fill it.

Those revenue measures would extend the six percent sales tax to about several dozen new services.  It would make us pay extra for such things as parking; having professional photos made; designing and hosting websites; renting space for a wedding or convention; storing a boat; and sending your child to camp.

The bill’s sponsors readily admit their goal is to emulate the nine states without an income tax.  They also acknowledge that it could be a long journey to get there.  Others and I argue that it’s also highly questionable whether this is the best route to take, because there are many reasons why a significant majority of states relies on a progressive taxing system.

It is important to point out that the nine states without an income tax evolved their policies over decades; their citizens pay more in other taxes – Tennessee taxes groceries, for example, while many communities pay almost 10 percent sales tax – and their economies rely on such industries as tourism that are not as prominent here.

At the same time, states without income taxes often spend less on critical programs and services like education.  A U.S. Census comparison of local, state and federal per-pupil funding showed that, in 2019, Kentucky spent $1,500 more annually on each student than what Tennessee, Texas and Florida spent.

Last fall, the highly reputable Pew Charitable Trusts said Kentucky had the second-most stable tax system between 2001 and 2020, trailing only South Dakota.  That predictability means we are much less likely to see wide swings in state revenues, something that helped immensely during the Great Recession and especially the first few months of the pandemic.

States that have moved in a similar direction have not always had an easy time.  Kansas’ ill-fated attempt in 2012 was essentially reversed five years later after massive budget cuts and the promise of economic growth didn’t materialize.

Other states trying to do something have taken a more cautious approach and still faced difficult times.  House Bill 8 does have trigger mechanisms so that future cuts beyond the first may be years away, but this ever-present financial cliff will make it that much more difficult for us to properly fund our schools and other critical programs in the future.

Moving away from an income tax creates true winners and losers. If you earn $1.4 million, you’re going to get about $11,000 back a year.  Most others who live paycheck-to-paycheck will see monthly savings measured in pennies or a couple of dollars. 

House Bill 8 is now in the hands of the state Senate, and if a compromise is reached, it will likely be in the final days of the legislative session, which must wrap up by mid-April.

On the same day this bill was approved, the House voted on its versions of the Judicial and Legislative branch budgets.  While both contain needed raises for state employees, the legislative budget includes a pay increase for House and Senate members serving in 2023 and beyond.  I supported an effort to remove, because I believe it is wrong for us to raise our salaries while severely cutting unemployment insurance and not giving teachers a raise.

Budgetary matters were not the only major issue last week.  The House also voted for a draconian anti-abortion bill that, if it becomes law, would all but stop this safe, legal procedure in Kentucky.

House Bill 3 would put unnecessary restrictions on abortion medicine sent through the mail; it will add requirements to obtain birth and death certificates for an abortion; it will make it tougher for minors to obtain an abortion while criminalizing doctors who don’t follow specific consent procedures in those cases; and it would add new but unnecessary reporting requirements designed to intimidate those they affect.

My colleagues and I spoke out strongly against this bill, which will put one of the safest medical procedures out of reach for the majority of women and your girls who need it. It will impact poor, black, brown, abused, and vulnerable women and girls in our Commonwealth the most. Every year, it seems, the legislature finds new and cruel ways to limit reproductive rights and invade privacy during one of the most trying times in someone’s life.  It shouldn’t have to be this way.

For now, the fate of these and many other bills is still unknown, but we will have final answers in most cases in just a few weeks.

I want to hear your thoughts on these issues, because that helps me immensely when it comes time to vote.  You can leave a toll-free message each weekday at 1-800-372-7181, while my email is Nima.Kulkarni@lrc.ky.gov.  If you would like to know more about these and other bills, they can be found at Legislature.Ky.Gov

Session Update: Week 6

Last Monday may have been a holiday, but anyone following the proceedings in the Kentucky House of Representatives wouldn’t be able to tell.

After taking Presidents’ Day off, lawmakers returned to Frankfort on Tuesday for day 33 of the legislative session. Bills addressing police and tax reform advanced off the House floor while House committees heard a variety of bills that supporters say will protect Kentuckians from violent criminals.

On Tuesday, the House unanimously approved a bipartisan measure that would prohibit anyone convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense from becoming a peace officer.

Kentucky law currently prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from becoming or remaining a peace officer. House Bill 206 would add misdemeanor sexual offenses to the list. The bill would also automatically revoke the certification of a peace officer if he or she is convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense.

One of the bill’s sponsors said the measure is an extension of Senate Bills 80 and 52 from the 2021 legislative session. Both bills sought to reform what constitutes law enforcement misconduct in an effort to weed out “bad actors.”

HB 206 cleared the House by a 96-0 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

Lawmakers continued to address law enforcement related issues on Wednesday with House Bill 414. Supporters of the bill said it will give local law enforcement agencies more flexibility to address the needs of employees and the communities they serve.

Within the last year, law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth have reported major staffing shortages and issues with retention. The House took up a bill earlier in the session related to Kentucky State Police salaries to help that agency recruit and retain officers. HB 414 would likewise help local law enforcement agencies.

When it comes to staffing concerns, HB 414 would remove the age ceiling for applicants. Under current statute, applicants must be between 18 and 45 years old. The bill would also allow local law enforcement agencies to operate under an 80-hour, 14-day work period instead of a 40-hour, seven-day work period.

Critics of the bill expressed concerns about the 80-hour, 14-day work period and how some officers may end up working more than 10 hours a day, which could lead to mistakes and accidents.

The bill’s sponsor said these provisions should give local law enforcement agencies more flexibility if an incident requires a long investigation.

Another provision of the bill seeks to strengthen the reputation of police and fire departments by amending the disciplinary process to allow more time for complaints against law enforcement officers to be filed.

Under this provision, the window to file a complaint would be extended from three days to 10 days. The bill would then give the mayor, city manager or legislative body 10 days instead of five days to file charges if there is probable cause.

The House approved HB 414 by an 85-12 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

HB 206 and HB 414 were not the only pieces of legislation related to first responders taken up by the House this week.

The Lifeliner’s Act, or House Bill 79, would allow telecommunicators to be eligible participants in the Law Enforcement Professional Development and Wellness Program. This bipartisan measure would also require telecommunicators to undergo basic training on post-traumatic stress disorder and work-induced stress.

Resources for how to receive treatment for PTSD and work-induced stress would also be required under this bill.

HB 79 advanced off the House floor unanimously. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

Tax reform

When it comes to the topic of tax reform, lawmakers say they’re working on multiple bills that would put more money in the pockets of hard working Kentuckians while diversifying the tax base to give local governments and the state more revenue options.

One way to give local governments more tax options could soon lie in the hands of voters. House Bill 475 cleared the House floor by an 80-17 vote this week.

The bipartisan measure would allow Kentuckians to vote on a constitutional amendment that would give lawmakers the power to allow local governments to implement new types of taxes.

Currently, Section 181 of the Kentucky Constitution limits the types of taxes local governments can charge. Supporters of the bill said most cities, counties and municipalities survive on occupational tax and property tax revenue, which is an issue for many communities.

Changing the constitution would give the General Assembly the power to approve legislation that would allow local governments to implement a 1% local sales tax, for example.

Supporters of the bill say changing the state constitution is essential if the legislature wants to be successful in implementing comprehensive tax reform.

The bill now lies in the hands of the Senate. If HB 475 clears that chamber and gains the governor’s signature, Kentucky voters will decide on the proposed change to the constitution during the November 2022 general election.

If voters approve, supporters of HB 475 have filed another bill— House Bill 476– that would keep the status quo until lawmakers return in January 2023 for the next legislative session.

Critics of HB 475 worry changing the constitution might put a burden on low income individuals and families. Supporters of the bill disagree, adding it would allow local governments to ease off increasing occupational and property taxes and instead implement other types of taxes that would tax other individuals, such as tourists.

HB 476 cleared the House floor by an 86-11 vote. The bill is now before the Senate for consideration.

In committee

House committees addressed a number of issues this week. All of these bills were approved by their respective committees and are now before the full House for consideration.

House Judiciary Committee: House Bill 313 would issue new guidelines for charitable bail organizations.

The bill would prevent charitable bail organizations from posting more than $5,000 in bail for anyone charged with a crime. The bill would also limit the types of individuals the organizations can post bail for. Individuals charged with a domestic violence-related or dating-violence related crimes and individuals held under a civil court order would not be eligible to be bailed out by charitable bail organizations.

Another provision of HB 313 would also require charitable bail organizations to keep track of who is donating to the organization and who the organization helps. This information would be required to be posted publicly and submitted annually to the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary.

If the organization posts bail for an individual who commits another offense, HB 313 would also require the bail to be forfeited to the victim of the new crime.

The House Judiciary Committee also approved House Bill 488 this week. The bill would make a second violation or subsequent violation of an order of protection a Class D felony.

House State Government Committee: As Black History Month comes to a close, lawmakers are considering a plan to make Juneteenth a state holiday.

Last year, the federal government made June 19, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of the last group of enslaved Black Americans who were living in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the end of the Civil War. House Bill 133 would add Juneteenth to the list of federal holidays recognized by the state.

The House State Government Committee also approved House Bill 43 this week. The bill would prohibit a governmental entity from prohibiting religious services during an emergency to a greater extent than imposed on other organizations or businesses that provide essential services.

The Kentucky General Assembly will convene for the 37th day of the 2022 legislative session at 4 p.m. Monday.

Tuesday is the last day for lawmakers to file new bills in the House, and Thursday is the last day to file new bills in the Senate.

Session Update: Halfway Point

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.

You can read the final bill here.

View the full presentation and my remarks here (starting at the 23:30 mark).

I wrote more about this bill during the 2021 Interim Session here.

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.

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.

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.

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