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There’s still time, brothers & sisters

By Constance Alexander

The fact that the Kentucky constitution requires the current legislative session end no later than April 15 evokes images from the final scene from Nevil Shute’s classic end-of-the-world novel, On the Beach:

Random litter drifts, tumble-weed style, through eerily empty city streets, while a battered banner, dangling from its moorings, announces, “There’s still time, brother.”

For Kentuckians there is still time – just barely – to weigh in with legislators on a range of bills fixin’ to become laws unless voters speak up.

The Kentucky Senate, with a total of 38 senators, numbers 31 Republicans to 7 Democrats. The General Assembly, comprised of 100 representatives, boasts 80 Republicans and 20 Democrats. This strong supermajority means that voters need to get informed about proposed legislation BEFORE it becomes law and contact their elected representatives – by phone, email or snail mail – to let them know your opinions and suggestions.

With a law-making process often likened to the messier aspects of making sausage, voters shoulder the responsibility of contacting legislators during the session. Waiting until November elections is too late.

Elected representatives communicate with constituents via email, online, and in local papers, but their self-reporting does not necessarily produce unbiased information voters can rely on. So where does an interested citizen begin?

Kentucky’s Legislative Research Commission is an invaluable resource. It covers committee staffing, bill drafting, oversight of the state budget and educational reform, among other topics, essential to voters. Through the LRC, citizens can track the performance of their legislators and the bills they promote in Frankfort. Voters can call and leave messages for their legislators, or email them directly, to provide feedback and suggestions on votes that will transform a bill into state law. 

The challenge for voters is the need to consult a variety of publications that cover politics, which requires wading into an environment steeped in social media and awash with multiple sources of information, some more reliable than others, and often blocked by paywalls.

On a good day, my own sources of information about Kentucky politics and policies include a patchwork: WKMS-FM, Murray’s National Public Radio affiliate; Kentucky LanternHoptown ChronicleThe Murray Sentinel; University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalismand Community Issues; Forward Kentucky; and Northern Kentucky Tribune

When it comes to legislative knowledge and insights, delivered in scrupulously balanced coverage, KET’s director of public affairs, Renee Shaw, is a dynamo. She serves as host of KET’s weeknight public affairs program Kentucky Edition; the signature public policy discussion series Kentucky Tonight; the weekly interview series Connections; election coverage; and KET Forums. 

Comment on Kentucky, KET’s longest-running public affairs program, broadcasts every Friday night. A staple for those who seek supporting details behind current Kentucky headlines, Comment maintains consistently high ethical standards. Host Bill Bryant invites journalists from across the Commonwealth to engage in in-depth discussions about the week’s biggest news stories.

This legislative session, I am following five bills and contacting my representatives to express my opinions on how they should vote on each one. Without feedback, legislators cannot know what we think and how their votes matter to constituents. 

If you do not know who represents you in Frankfort, a visit to the Legislative Research Commission site is a great place to start. 

Jason Howell is the senator representing Calloway, Crittendon, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Lyon and Trigg counties. 

Mary Beth Imes represents Calloway and Trigg counties in the House.

Here are some of the bills they will be voting on between now and the end of the current legislative session:

Senate Bill 6, aims to curb diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in public universities and colleges. It sailed through the senate and was sent to the House on a party line vote, according to Kentucky Lantern, with 26 Republicans voting in favor and seven Democrats voting against. 

The bill would allow the attorney general to bring a civil action against a university or college that penalizes a student or employee for rejecting any of 16 “discriminatory” concepts enumerated in the bill. Universities and colleges also would be required to publish course descriptions, syllabi and assigned or recommended textbooks online, among other new requirements. 

House Bill 387 seeks to lower the educational requirements for substitute teachers in Kentucky. Subs currently are required to have at least 64 hours of college credit. If the bill becomes law, high school diplomas or the equivalent would be enough to qualify for a one-year emergency certification from the Education Professional Standards Board. 

House Bill 141 wants to make water fluoridation programs optional. Based on the premise that fluoridation is “forced medication,” the governing bodies of water systems could decide whether to participate in fluoridation programs. 

House Bill 509 would amend the Kentucky Open Records Law to make it more difficult for the general public and the press to gain access to the records and meetings of public agencies. Rep. John Hodgson has recently declared he plans to revise the bill after it, according to the Kentucky Lantern, ignited protests from open government advocates and Kentucky Press Association.

According to an email from Hodgson quoted in The Lantern, “A number of involved private citizens and constituents took me up on that offer and we had some very constructive dialog about dozens of specific examples in their experience base.”

House Bill 148 which has been proposed more than several times in recent years, would finally eliminate the so-called “pink tax” on menstrual materials. Rep. Lisa Wilner, the bill’s sponsor, pointed out the “fundamental injustice” of the tax. 

“To compound the issue,” she said, “Kentucky is now in the minority of states that still profit from menstruation by taxing medically necessary period products.” 

This is just a smattering of bills that are moving through the system; there are scores more. Waiting until election day to contact your legislators is too late, but there’s still time between now and April to do your civic duty and hold legislators accountable for their action or inaction. 

Author’s note: In 1989, when the publisher of Murray Ledger & Times asked me to write a column, he said, “You can write about anything, as long as it’s not political or controversial.” From then until December 31, 2023, Main Street, readers followed the column weekly, first in the Murray paper, and then in Kentucky Forward and Northern Kentucky Tribune.

In 2024, I am exploring the possibility of launching Left on Main, to incorporate more political and controversial topics. Please read and share this first installment and let me know what you think at constancealexander@twc.com.

Recipient of a Governor’s Award in the Arts, Constance Alexander has won numerous grants, awards, and residencies for her poetry, plays, prose, and civic journalism projects. Contact her at constancealexander@twc.com.

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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