Kentucky’s 2022 Legislative Session Will Likely Be A Chaotic, Grandstanding Mess. We Still Have Hope.

The 2022 Kentucky General Assembly session reflects many other political situations: There’s a decent amount of room for opportunity, and even more room for failure. 

By the time you read this, the redistricting process will most likely be well under way, and that will be a lightning quick, shadily quiet and absolutely partisan move by the Republican supermajority, right as the session begins on Jan. 4. There will also inevitably be childlike grandstanding, toxic culture wars waged, gross dog-whistling and shows of power from certain factions within the supermajority. Arguments about critical race theory and COVID will happen, and abortion rights will come under attack. This won’t be a session that brings people together. 

On the borderline bright side, it will almost certainly be more unified than the special session back in September, where the GOP-dominated legislature essentially inherited control of the state’s coronavirus response after a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling shifted policymaking power. The special session was pretty much one big middle finger to the Gov. Andy Beshear, who angered the Republicans via his executive orders early on in the pandemic. It was about GOP payback, and tearing down what previously was built, instead of carving out the future of public health during a rapidly-changing crisis. It was messy, and the state’s COVID numbers are not exactly very good right now.

So, is there room for a little bit of optimism for this session — even very, very cautious optimism?

There — and I could very easily want to Sharpie this line out of every single issue of LEO that gets delivered this week — probably is.

That’s mostly because the state has money to spend. Kentucky is holding onto a $1.1 billion fiscal year budget surplus and is looking forward to the incoming American Rescue Plan Act funds. And, this year, the General Assembly will pass its first two-year budget since before the pandemic.

At a Louisville Forum event addressing the session back in December, House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins (D-Louisville) — who appeared alongside her Republican peer Sen. Paul Hornback — expressed some positive thoughts, saying the budget could keep the session focused. 

“It tends to take a lot of discussion and air out of the room,” Jenkins said of the budget. “And it is a good year for us because revenues are up, there is lots of one-time money, but for every dollar there’s been probably three or four people asking for that dollar. There’s lots of hard decisions to make.”

A lot is riding on this 60-day session. Some of it’s going to be chaotic, some of it’s going to be depressing, some of it’s going to be a blatant waste of time that doesn’t serve anyone, but there has to be some common ground during a long session with a decent chunk of money. Let’s address tornado relief, poverty, equity, essential worker shortages, infrastructure, child care and economic development. Let’s create prosperity for everyone, and look to the future. Let’s move forward. We have the resources. But, at the end of the day, we have to hold out hope that a volatile supermajority gives more than it takes.

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