For months we have seen a mix of good and bad bills coming out of Frankfort, and as we got down to the end of the session, we were hopeful that perhaps some of the really destructive bills would die before being heard.
On Tuesday, those hopes were dashed.
In a list-minute rush to pass as many horrible bills as possible, the Republicans in Frankfort threw out all the rules, rushed bills through committee and onto the floor, and succeeded in passing in one day some of the worst bills ever to come out of a General Assembly.
Here are the lowlights from Dystopian Tuesday.
HB 3 – the Omnibus Anti-Abortion Bill
Every year, the Republicans pass an anti-abortion bill. And every year, the bills get more and more draconian. HB 3 is the worst one yet.
The original bill was mainly about limiting access to mail-order abortifacients, and preventing minors from getting an abortion without their parents’ consent. But, the Repubs weren't content to stop there. No, they decided to add the 15-week limit on abortions as well, with no exceptions.
There were protesters in the Senate gallery, shouting and raising Cain as the bill was debated. When they were forced to leave the gallery, they continued chanting and shouting in the hallway and in the rotunda.
When the final vote came, most of the Democrats walked out of the chamber and refused to vote at all.
HB 3 will be vetoed by the governor, the veto will be overridden, and we will join Mississippi in banning all abortion after 15 weeks, if SCOTUS allows the Mississippi bill to stand.
HB 9 – The Charter School Funding bill
Even after multiple school officials and superintendents testified against the bill, and even in the face of overwhelming research showing that charter schools rarely live up to the hype, the legislature passed HB 9, which provides funding for charter schools.
Note that it has an exception for counties with smaller school populations – in other words, all the counties of the leges who voted for it. And, it forces Louisville and Northern Kentucky University to authorize a charter school in their districts.
Joni Jenkins called this bill “a gift from Republicans to their donors,” and she is absolutely correct about that. One charter school management company has been spending money lobbying for the bill – not because they care about children, but because they care about the money.
Questions were raised about the constitutionality of forcing school districts to transfer local tax receipts to private entities. Those questions were never answered.
And, Jefferson County Public Schools came in for some direct criticism from senators on the floor, especially by Stephen Meredith. In response, JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said later, “If we really want to improve our outcomes for students, the senator from Leitchfield, the senator from Greensburg, and the senator from Manchester will allow us to keep all of our SEEK dollars here in Jefferson County and we'll stop funding their schools — but, we'll be looking at outcomes of their schools as well.”
The bill will probably be vetoed by the governor, but unlike these other bills, that veto might wind up standing, as the bill barely passed the House.
HB 8 – The “Get Rid of the Income Tax and Blow a Hole in the Budget” Bill
One of the wet dreams of the Republican majority has been to completely get rid of the state income tax and rely only on sales taxes. Never mind that such a move punishes the poor and middle class – who cares about them? Never mind that the fiscal note accompanying the bill says that just this first cut, from 5% to 4%, will cost the state about a billion dollars a year. And never mind that the income tax is a much more reliable source of revenue, as proven during the recent recessions.
The only thing that matters is that the Repubs get a twofer out of this bill: they give a big tax break to their wealthy donors, and the coming budget crunch will let them kill more programs they don’t like.
This is one of the most destructive bills ever passed in Frankfort – and if Repubs have their way, it will get worse every session.
HB 7 – The Attack on the Safety Net
This bill did not pass on Tuesday, but it did continue moving forward ... and was placed on the Orders of the Day for today.
The bill as it stands is some better than the original bill that was filed. But it still will make it much harder for people to get the help they need, without actually doing much to prevent fraud (its stated intent). Thousands of Kentuckians will lose benefits they need, like food assistance.
Again, it will likely pass today, get vetoed, the veto will be overridden, and once again, we will shred the safety net for our most vulnerable.
So, there you have it: four dystopian bills that were the priorities of the Republican party. The bills they most cared about. And now they are going to be the law in Kentucky.
Have the Repubs passed some good bills? Yes. Has the legislature done some good this session? Yes. Are there bills we can be glad about? Yes.
But for THESE bills to be the MOST IMPORTANT, out of the the hundreds of bills that were filed, tells us what the Republican Party in Kentucky truly cares about: taking care of the wealthy, giving government money to private businesses instead of to our schools, and putting women in their place.
So even as we are glad of the good, we cannot forget the bills the Repubs pushed at the last minute to get passed – on Dystopian Tuesday.
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