Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.
The Kentucky General Assembly suspended its session March 13 and 16 in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 and minimize social interaction. Here are some updates to some of the bills the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK) is watching this session. All information is up-to-date as of this print.
Two pro-life bills have passed the Kentucky House of Representatives and are headed to the Senate, though further action might depend on the progression of the coronavirus.
House Bill 67 and House Bill 451, both upholding further regulation regarding the right to life, should be voted on before the end of the General Assembly session in two weeks. The Assembly cancelled session for a four-day weekend and determined to reconvene as normal on March 17.
CCK executive director Jason Hall said it’s possible that all bills that are non-essential will get de-railed just because of the crisis with the virus. However, he is hopeful that these bills will be passed soon.
House Bill 67, the Abortion Neutrality Constitutional Amendment, would amend the state constitution to clarify that there is no right to an abortion in the Kentucky Constitution. It passed 71-21 and is headed to the Senate.
Andrew Vandiver, CCK assistant director, said it’s a necessity because with the Supreme Court in flux, “…we don’t know if Roe v. Wade is going to be upheld at the federal level. If it’s not, these issues are going to be kicked down to the states more often and there are other states where the state supreme court has found the right to an abortion.”
Mr. Hall said he was very excited to see the bill move forward.
“We’ve received conflicting signals over the course of the session so we were very relieved that it moved through the House,” he said. “Of course we still have to get it down to the Senate. … I think this is one they’d definitely be interested in putting on the ballot as a House proposal.”
He explained that HB 67 and Senate Bill 9 were priority pro-life bills this session.
Senate Bill 9 has already passed the Senate in January, is out of committee and is ready to be voted on with a House amendment. It only remains to be cleared by the Senate and then will go to the governor for approval.
The Born Alive Infant Protection Act, as it’s also named, is backed by Senator Whitney Westerfield and has been introduced for a few years in the Kentucky courts.
“It’s at the last step of the House process,” said Mr. Hall. He said the bill’s clear language is well-drafted.
Representatives Damon Thayer and John Schickel co-sponsored the bill. Mr. Hall said these two bills are essential because they “keep a focus on a very meaningful legislation that will have a real legal impact on the situation.”
“The General Assembly has passed a lot of pro-life legislation in recent years,” he said. “These bills aren’t for show, they really have a legal importance to them.”
House Bill 451, the other pro-life bill from this week, passed by a 70-23 vote and is heading to the Senate.
It would expand the power of Kentucky’s attorney general to regulate abortion facilities, including bringing civil or criminal penalties for violations beyond just seeking injunctive relief.
Essentially, it applies to regulation of abortion clinics and making sure they’re complying with the law has typically been the governor’s responsibility – this would transfer more of that to the power of the attorney general.
House Bill 350 — the bill that would establish scholarship tax credits — has stalled. In recent days a group of House Republicans are fighting hard to prevent HB 350 from getting a vote in 2020, said Mr. Vandiver.
Particularly concerning is that two Northern Kentucky representatives have told constituents who have called in support of the bill that Catholic schools in Northern Kentucky are not prepared to accept the students that qualify for scholarships — because of poverty or special needs — and would be mandated to take them. Both of these concerns are unfounded.
“The mission and ministry of Catholic schools has always been to educate children so as to break the cycle of poverty for families,” said Kendra McGuire, associate superintendent of Catholic schools.
In the Diocese of Covington three schools qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision of the National School Lunch Program. This means that a majority of students qualify for free and reduced lunches and therefore the entire school community receives free breakfasts and lunches. Additionally 30 other schools also have students that qualify for the school lunch program.
Catholic schools in the diocese already educate over 1,000 students with diagnosed learning disabilities. “The majority of our schools have teachers dedicated to students with special needs. Many are certified in special education or have training related to various learning needs such as autism or ADHD,” Mrs. McGuire said.
Every parent — regardless of income or address — should be able to choose the school that meets their child’s educational needs, said Mr. Vandiver. And while no member of the General Assembly would accept sending their own child to a school that did not meet their needs, “certain members expect other families to watch their children fall through the cracks,” he said.
Polls show that 62 percent of Kentuckians support Scholarship Tax Credits. It is time to know where members of the General Assembly stand, said Mr. Vandiver.
“Contact your senator and representative today, even if you have already done so, and demand that they put Scholarship Tax Credits to a vote. If they are going to oppose educational freedom for Kentucky families, they should at least be willing to do so in the light of day by voting on the bill.”
Under normal circumstances, Mr. Hall said, the public would see results from all these bills fairly quickly. With the closure of most public events, however, it will be a longer wait until these bills receive a vote. Updates will be posted in the <> as legislation makes further progress.