Issue March 6, 2007

City Strobe

Promoting intolerance while hamstringing education — what could be more Frankfort than that? Kentucky Senate Bill 152 is a poetic piece of legislation that props up discrimination, ignorance, second-class education and second-class healthcare, all in an economical 182 words. It aims to prohibit universities and agencies from offering health insurance coverage to anyone other than a legally married spouse or family member. In other words, no homos allowed.

But with 70,000 unmarried couples co-habitating in Kentucky (with 50,000 children) — and with universities and agencies already at a hiring disadvantage — the bill would exacerbate both the healthcare and education crises going on in the Commonwealth.

Why the need to legislate discrimination? Because UK and U of L want to extend health benefits to domestic partners, just like Ford, Toyota, UPS, most Fortune 500 companies, all top universities and scores of other businesses already do. Turns out “those people” are good to have around. Besides being smart and witty and physically fit and handy with a fashion makeover, they also make brilliant teachers, administrators, researchers and, well, everything. And, while most visionary national leaders are desperately trying to figure out how to insure everybody (no exceptions), it seems extra despicable to go out of your way to forbid an employer from offering coverage.

How do those Senators do it? By a vote of 27-8, that’s how. Not outraged yet? Here’s the homophobic-Republican money shot: Insurance programs like those at U of L that offer coverage to domestic partners don’t cost the state a penny. That’s because the employee pays the portion that covers the domestic partner — or as they’re known in some states, the “old ball and chain.” Still, the Republicans in the Senate — you know, those keep-government-out-of-people’s-lives types — went out of their way to pass the bill, which now goes to the House.

Enter Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville. He’s chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee and has promised to kill the bill. Burch at first vowed not to even hold a hearing, but later bowed under parliamentary pressure, knowing Republicans can force a floor vote to score political points against any member who votes in favor of tolerance. If the legislators really want to make this mistake, they’d better hurry. The regular session ends this week. —Jim Welp

Housing, from so simple a beginning
Louisville is on its way to getting an affordable housing trust fund.
Mayor Jerry Abramson announced last Wednesday the culmination of an eight-month effort by the task force he appointed to study creating a locally based fund, which would provide money to low-earning Louisvillians looking to become homeowners. The fund could also be used to provide rental assistance or to stave off foreclosure in some cases.

Abramson is contributing $1 million in one-time revenue to seed the fund; the money is about one-third of a windfall from back taxes owed to the city. The seed money will be used, Abramson said, to attract private sector and nonprofit contributions to build and solidify the fund. In addition, Abramson said plans are in place to lobby Frankfort lawmakers next year to pass enabling legislation that would give the Metro Council authority to implement renewable, public revenue streams.

There is a state-based affordable housing trust fund, though money from it is spread among 120 counties. The fund raises around $2 million a year; Louisville’s share is nowhere near its need.

“I think it’s an excellent first step,” Cathy Hinko, director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, said Wednesday. Hinko was on Abramson’s task force, which also included representatives of banks, developers and other nonprofit housing groups. “ is very clear that this is seed money from a non-recurring source and that he is committed to finding some sort of source for it, and we hope he means a dedicated public source.”

The Louisville Metro Family Services Department will administer the fund. Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, is expected to introduce an ordinance at next week’s Metro Council meeting establishing a commission, appointed by the mayor and approved by the Council, that would set up the parameters of the fund. The mayor also said he would include funding for it in subsequent city budgets.
An Abramson spokesperson said the city expects the fund to become operational some time next year, though that depends largely on how responsive Frankfort lawmakers are to allowing Louisville to generate public money for its own fund. —Stephen George

Pay your tickets or get The Boot
Ever wonder why it’s so damn hard to find a parking spot in downtown Louisville, a place hailed by many-an-observer (including the New Yorker magazine) as a city center so addled by swathes of line-painted concrete you could drive your RV to work every morning and never be out a spot?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that people don’t pay parking tickets. You know the ones — they’ll park somewhere for five hours and risk getting flagged, flouting the entire system simply because it’s based on a form of punishment that’s so painless and unaffecting as to appear to be a joke.
On April 1, that ends.

On April 1, if you have not paid your latest round of green-enveloped notices of violation and you get snagged again, you’ll be getting to know The Boot, a hideous corporal metal device that paralyzes your vehicle by interrupting a wheel’s natural rotation.

That’s right, Bubba. The City is tired of people being swayed from the new, glittering downtown just because they can’t find one of the 32,000 spaces there. But don’t despair, scofflaws, because you’re not totally screwed just yet. The phonetically-appealing but literately-challenged campaign “Downtown Louisville: We’ve got a space 4U” is only halfway over, meaning you still have, like, three weeks, dude, to get the hell down to one of the Parking Authority of the River City offices and settle up (minus the late fees, which means each ticket will cost you $15, not $25). If it’s too much to get down to a PARC office, or if you become frustrated at the lack of metered spaces and just quit, dial up www.louisvilleky.gov and pay those things online. You can also enter your license plate number to see if you owe anything. If you’re Web-challenged, call 569-6222 and be done with it. —Stephen George

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