5 Of The Worst Moments From Kentucky’s 2022 Legislative Session (So Far)

Every news cycle now moves so fast that it’s frustratingly easy to forget heavy, terrifying breaking stories a few days later, but when the General Assembly is in session, that concept gets sent into hyperdrive. And, this year, unsurprisingly, the state’s lawmakers have constructed a tornado of harmful, dog-whistling legislation, shameless rhetoric and empty ideology.

The GOP supermajority has proven they’re a dangerous bunch: The mad-dog younger generation perpetually try to turn religious belief systems and hardline party ideals into law, and the old-guard obstructionists know how to snipe any sort of real progress from a mile away. Add in the ineptness and bigotry, and we’ve got a party that never stops and thinks, only acts to achieve senseless moral victories. Like several people have recently said, I’m not sure what they even stand for anymore. 

It’s been a long and exhausting session in the statehouse and it will honestly probably be a long and exhausting decade, at least politically-speaking, in Kentucky.  

But, as the session is winding down, with the last two post-veto period days taking place on April 13-14, I wanted to briefly remember five egregious things from the 2022 General Assembly.

Now, there are many more than five, so if you send over the old ‘Hey, you didn’t mention this’ line on Twitter, I’ll probably just agree with you. This isn’t meant to be comprehensive, just a few quick snapshots that show how much of a mess our state government is.

For instance, we’re going to skip over major topics like gerrymandering, a massive attack on public education and public assistance slashing, because this a short column and we wouldn’t have room in this entire issue to recap all of the absurdities that the 2022 session brought us.

So, here’s a few, um, whatever the opposite of highlights is:

1. Let’s start with a late amendment to House Bill 690, which would allow lawyers to carry guns inside courtrooms. Gov. Andy Beshear, who recently vetoed the bill, said he did so at the request of the Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, the Kentucky Fraternal Order of the Police and the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Association, among others. In the veto, he said criminal defendants accused of murder could be inches from a weapon under this law. He wrote: “Courtrooms are venues of often volatile disputes that can be filled with emotion and tension.” With a super majority in both chambers the Republicans will have an opportunity to override the veto.

2. When discussing negotiating process during a Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee in February, two lawmakers, Sen. Rick Girdler (R-Somerset) and Rep. Walker Thomas (R-Hopkinsville) used the phrase “Jew Them Down.” They both eventually apologized, but it’s unacceptable and embarrassing that lawmakers are using hateful language. 

3. Senate Bill 83, better known as the anti-trans sports bill, would amend an existing law to add that “an athletic activity or sport designated as ‘girls’ shall not be open to members of the male sex.” It passed through both chambers and was vetoed by the governor, although it’s likely the supermajority will override. During a February Senate Education Committee meeting that advanced the legislation, Sen. Reginald Thomas, a Democrat from Lexington, asked the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Robby Mills, a Republican from Henderson, if he was aware of any issues or disputes concerning transgender students and sports occurring in Kentucky. Mills said he couldn’t provide any statewide examples or reasons why the bill was necessary, basically cementing it as copy-and-paste lobby legislation that focuses on party beliefs more than problems. At that committee meeting, a seventh grade transgender girl, Fischer Wells, who spearheaded getting the minimum number of players together for a girls field hockey team at her school said that “it’s disgusting that this bill is even suggested.”

“I really don’t want this bill to pass, because I really want to play and it will be extremely detrimental to my mental health, as well, because, I know sports is a great way for me to cope with things,” she said into the microphone, sitting next to her parents, in the crowded room.

4. A super restrictive, bare-bones bill on medical marijuana was purposely stalled by Senate leadership, leaving Kentucky once again in the dust of an industry that provides both relief for serious ailments and flows of additional tax revenue for participating states. Currently, 37 states are providing some form of medical marijuana access, while 18 also allow legal access to recreational. Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville, who has been championing Kentucky medical marijuana legislation for the past few years, tried to push through House Bill 136, which would only allow medical marijuana for a small number of conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and nausea or vomiting. It’s embarrassing that we can’t pass something so simple.

5. House Bill 3, a layered, omnibus bill sponsored by Rep. Nancy Tate (R-Brandenburg) would amend state law to make it harder for minors to get abortions in cases when a parent is not able or qualified to provide written consent, as well as restrict access to abortion medication. It would also ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, overriding the current law, which bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — similar to a controversial and legally-contested Mississippi law. Beshear vetoed the bill, but, again, the Republican supermajority will most likely easily override it. There’s nothing I can say about this bill that Sen. Karen Berg (D-Louisville) hasn’t already put more articulately and knowledgeably. During debate, Berg — who is a diagnostic radiologist, a doctor who often does the first trimester of ultrasounds — said that the abortion medication aspect of the bill was based in personal belief systems and not medicine. 

“Why are we doing this, guys? And I know the answer,” Berg said back in March. “So, you have to ask, what is the purpose behind this legislation? Why are we so over-regulating, such a safe and and wanted medical procedure? The answer is very clear. There are certain legislators who feel that they have a right to regulate their personal religious and their personal moral beliefs over the rest of us, under the guise of safety for women. I will tell you again that this procedure is exponentially safer than child birth. It is a medically-accepted procedure.”   

Well, I’ve doubled my allotted word count, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the worst of what came from this year’s legislative session. So, as always, stay active and angry, and don’t forget to vote.

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