How can a small group do so much damage in such a short time? Just ask the Kentucky General Assembly.
During this session, the body of 100 state representatives and 37 state senators (having one vacancy in District 31), were able to introduce a series of bills that would undermine or restrict the public's right to know, deliberately attempt to divert tax dollar funding from public education for the purpose of bolstering private schools and, of course, allocate a portion of the scarce funds available to public education for the express purpose of affixing a faith-based slogan on the front door of every public school building in the state. We even had a bill to define what can and cannot be called "meat" in Kentucky.
All of these pile on top of the continued assault on pensions promised to state workers such as first responders and, you guessed it, public school teachers. Sure, the retirement system is mess, but that is no fault of the employees who have paid in their hard-earned wages every pay period over the years. That blame falls directly on previous groups of 138 who, for all intents and purposes, stole money that was not theirs to fund their own initiatives.
Now, they are trying to pass the buck – cutting taxes on the wealthy and reducing revenues while slashing meaningful programs in concert.
Never mind the items that did pass or came close, there were other meaningful legislative efforts that never really saw the light of day – roads and bridges, for example. It appears that much of what was introduced on both sides of the aisle focused on previewing the platforms and talking points ahead of the upcoming gubernatorial election.
Some good did come out of the session, however, and Christian County's senator had his hand on quite a bit of it.
Senate Bill 85, sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville), increases the penalties for driving under the influence in Kentucky. He presented House Bill 158 in the Senate, aligning state law with federal law and providing a bill of rights for children in foster care.
He also presented House Bill 375 in the Senate. This bill requires wireless telecommunications carriers to provide call location information from wireless devices to law enforcement agencies and public safety answering points under certain emergency conditions.
Unfortunately, for every good bill there are several bad ones.
Two weeks ago, we reported on House Bill 387 sponsored by Rep. Jason Petrie (R-Elkton). The bill sought to create multiple exemptions in the open records law to protect information surrounding incentives offered to companies in the name of economic development. Thankfully, this attack on the public's right to know was defeated -- but that it was ever introduced is evidence enough that some people in Frankfort do not want the public to know what they're up to.
Unfortunately, legislators still found a way to circumvent open records rules by adding a last-minute amendment to House Bill 354, during Sunshine Week no less.
The bill cuts taxes for Kentucky banks and non-profit organizations in years to come by more than $100 million – at a time when the Commonwealth struggles to fund public education – but at the eleventh hour on Wednesday a provision was snuck into the 233-page bill to make secret Kentucky Department of Revenue documents that include final tax rulings which are not appealed, requests for tax guidance, private letter rulings and requests concerning the division of income for interstate businesses.
Absolutely there are good people elected to the General Assembly who go to Frankfort and represent their communities by putting the best interests of their constituents first.
At the same time, there are people in the statehouse put in place by powerful lobbies with deep pockets. Many of these folks are there only to undermine the Commonwealth's legislative process for the purpose of reserving power and influence for the wealthy. It is important that we're clear-eyed about the agendas in Frankfort – some of which are devious, underhanded and downright sinister.
Though we are all exhausted, there is still one day left for the circus when the body can reconsider items vetoed by Gov. Matt Bevin on March 28. They may even pass an item or two more that has yet to make it to the governor's desk.
All of that, and this year was a short session. Just wait until next year – it'll be twice as long and fresh off the heels of a contentious race for the governor's mansion. Exhausting.
Brandon Cox is the publisher of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, Ky. He can be reached by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BrandonJCox.