We knew the 2017 Kentucky State Legislative session was going to be crazy when Gov. Matt Bevin went toe to toe with union workers in the halls of the Capitol, accusing one of not being from Kentucky.
Thankfully, the session is nearly over, ending dangerous meddling by the GOP majority. Well, sort of… There are still reconciliation days to consider disputed bills and vetoes, and a potential special session for tax reform. Oh joy… But for purposes of grading the lawmakers’ performance this year, the main act is complete.
Here are the best and worst:
Best legislation: Food Immunity Bill
This bill is so good that it makes you wonder why it wasn’t already the law. House Bill 237 loosens the liability of food donations. Grocery stores and farmers waste incredible amounts of food every day, because they are afraid they could get sued if they donate to a food bank or charity to feed the homeless, and someone gets sick from the food. Meanwhile about 750,000 Kentuckians remain “food insecure.” We’re all for product safety, but we’re also for feeding the hungry and not being wasteful.
Worst legislation: Ultrasound Informed Consent Act.
The competition was stiff for this superlative. There was the senseless 20-week abortion ban, and the right-to-work bill that benefits big businesses but leads to lower wages, fewer benefits and more dangerous workplaces. And Senate Bill 17 allows religious texts and teachings in public classrooms, ignoring the separation of church and state — à la the school prayer debates of the ’50s and ‘60s.
But then there is SB 4, the ultrasound bill, requiring a doctor or medical professional to perform an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion. Women must view or have a physician describe the details of an ultrasound to them and listen to the fetus’ heartbeat. Supporters hope this will scare or shame women into changing their minds — which implies that women aren’t smart enough to make that decision without being forced through this process.
Not only is it despicable treatment of women, but it’s also hypocritical. This requires doctor and patient to undergo a medically unnecessary procedure by order of the government. It is an invasion of privacy and an undue expense, and it makes criminals out of physicians trying to care for their patients.
Worst legislator: C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond.
Obviously the worst should go to racist-peddling bishop, Rep. Dan Johnson, Republican from Bullitt County, whose Facebook posts depicted President Obama and his family as apes.
But to the spirit of superlatives for this session, I love/hate Morgan, the freshman representative from Richmond. This guy’s either bad at concealing his conflicts of interest, or he just doesn’t care. He filed several bills he admitted would benefit the several liquor stores that he owns. He also introduced a bill to ban marinas from enforcing a lien against a boat owner’s boat, or interfering in that owner accessing his or her boat. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the $28,000 he owed Lee’s Ford Dock on Lake Cumberland at the time, or the coinciding lawsuit.
Best legislator: Rep. Darryl T. Owens, D-Louisville.
This year, Owens sponsored an expungement bill to help ex-felons get jobs by expanding offenses that can be expunged and making it cheaper and easier to remove felonies from their permanent record. He sponsored another bill to help reinstate voting rights for former felons.
Owens filed legislation that would empower Louisville Metro Government to regulate the sale of firearms and ammunition. He sought tougher rules for payday lenders — capping exorbitant interest rates and requiring stiffer penalties for violators.
A couple favorite moments include: In response to the GOP-pushed “Blue Lives Matter” bill, Owens said, “The only thing this does is diminish the importance of Black Lives Matter.” Expressing his opposition to charter schools, he said, “I’m for anything that’s going to close the gap. But, I’m sure not for an institution which allows people to make money off of kids.”
On New Years Eve, Owens posted this quote from Desmond Tutu on Facebook: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Well, you sir have been that bright light in the darkness of Frankfort. Keep that fire burning.