A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Tina Bojanowski
FRANKFORT – In normal years, the biggest issues of a legislative session are almost always among the last to be decided.
This is not a normal year, however, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that the script has been flipped. The General Assembly’s most prominent bills – about a half dozen that broadly and needlessly undermine our Executive and Judicial branches – have already been passed and vetoed and will almost certainly complete their legislative journey shortly after the House and Senate re-convene on Tuesday.
On top of that, there is also a good chance that a one-year state budget could be sent to Gov. Beshear this week.
With those important matters nearing their end, the General Assembly’s remaining 22 working days will be spent focusing on other legislation that may not be as high-profile but is important nonetheless. Some of these bills deserve the spotlight because of the good things they would do, while others deserve it precisely because of the problems they could cause.
Perhaps the best example of a cautionary tale can be found in the inappropriately named “Education Opportunity Account Act.” While it may sound positive, the reality is that this could be the very vehicle that pulls the plug on public education as we know it.
If enacted, it would set aside $25 million initially for tax breaks awarded to those who donate to scholarships for qualified families wanting to send their children to private school or to cover tuition costs at an out-of-district public school.
There are several significant reasons why this must not become law. First, the tax credit is almost dollar-for-dollar, meaning the state is subsidizing the scholarships, not the donor.
Second, the $25 million cap has a mechanism that could cause that figure to escalate quickly. Indeed, an analysis by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy shows it could have a cumulative cost of $8.6 billion by 2040. For comparison, the annual budget for elementary and secondary education is a little more than $5 billion. Florida shows that this worry is not unfounded. It has a similar program that is setting aside nearly $900 million each year for these private-school vouchers.
Third, this bill is ostensibly designed for lower-income families, but only the richest 20 percent or so would be ineligible.
Lastly, it is vital to point out that Kentucky is struggling to cover our public education needs. The 2018 budget, for example, only increased per-pupil spending by 50 cents a week, and there was no money for textbooks. Funding for higher education, meanwhile, is far below what it was before the Great Recession, when adjusting for inflation.
Our private schools are important, and this is not meant as an attack against them. Still, Kentucky’s constitution is clear that only public schools can receive public funding. Setting up a convoluted loophole does not change that fact.
While others and I work to keep that bill from advancing, there are many others we hope will become law by the time the legislative session ends in late March.
I filed House Bill 200 which will provide a much more needed tax break by helping teachers who fund classroom expenses out of their own pockets. When I shared with colleagues that I had filed a bill providing a tax credit for up to $250 of out-of-pocket expenses for their classrooms, one teacher stated, “I spend that in a month!”
House Bill 228 would “Ban the Box” by keeping employers from considering or requiring prior criminal history as part of an initial job application. This “box” has meant many Kentuckians are continuing to be unfairly punished long after their sentence is complete.
House Bill 40 sets a reasonable requirement for economic development incentives. In this case, businesses would have to pay a living wage to qualify. This will better ensure our state resources are going to the kind of jobs we want to create and attract.
House Bill 42 would establish 12 weeks of paid leave for state employees following the birth or adoption of a child – an important and family-building step that’s similar to a policy that began last fall for federal government employees.
House Bill 99 would give civil immunity to anyone who enters a vehicle to rescue a dog or cat from danger, especially heat. Kentucky, unfortunately, has some of the most lax animal-protection laws in the country, but bills like this would help change that.
These are just a few of the bills that others and I are proud to support and hope can become law. Others would raise the minimum wage, make it possible for many with a felony record to vote, extend fairness laws statewide, legalize medical marijuana, lower insulin costs and allow Kentucky to join the growing number of states offering sports wagering.
While other legislators and I will be the ones voting on these and other bills, the truth is that their success or failure depends on the public. That’s why I encourage you to let me know your views, and for you to reach out to other legislators to do the same. These calls, emails and social media messages make a profound difference.
You can reach me by email at Tina.Bojanowski@lrc.ky.gov, while the toll-free message line for all legislators is 1-800-372-7181. This is available during normal business hours each weekday. I’m on social media as well. My Twitter handle is @tinaforkentucky and my Facebook page is State Representative Tina Bojanowski.
You can also read the bills I’ve mentioned and check on votes by visiting the General Assembly’s webpage at legislature.ky.gov. You can also watch legislative meetings on KET or through the legislature’s YouTube page. Search for “Kentucky legislative streaming” to find those resources.
I hope to hear from you soon.