Ky’s 2024 General Assembly was awful but it could have been way worse | Opinion

The Kentucky General Assembly is mercifully over; lawmakers are driving home to gleefully brag about how the state can now lock up a lot of homeless people.

Yes, House Bill 5, the “Safer KY Act,” that will cost taxpayers billions without solving our declining crime rate, was disastrous bill that Republicans will say is their greatest achievement of this seemingly endless session.

Surprisingly, however, the General Assembly did achieve some good this time around, enough at least to consider this session less of a dumpster fire, and more of an oily plume of smoke in the distance.

Probably the best thing they did was pass an omnibus or “Momnibus” bill to improve women and children’s health, shorn of obnoxious political maneuvers by abortion foes.

Women from both parties came together to join Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill’s original momnibus, which among other things would expand health coverage for pregnancy, to another bill aimed at improving maternal and infant mortality.

As education advocate Nema Brewer observed on X: “It’s amazing what happens when both parties work towards policy that helps more than hurts. And it was led by women. From both parties. There’s a lesson here.”

There sure is. And maybe the women will lead it.

Other legislative successes came out of omission rather than commission. So let’s look at the other winners and losers of the session:

Winners: WE THE PEOPLE. The Senate decided to end the long tortured life of HB 509, which would have created huge a loophole in the state’s Open Records Act. It just goes to show that enough public outrage can move the needle, and that government accountability is still a concept that matters. Until next year.

Losers: Students who will still not be protected from abusive teachers because House Bill 275, a sweeping corrective, failed at the last minute. It’s very curious because the bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. The Senate made some changes, and the House never bothered to concur with them. Why? Does someone think an abusive teacher should move around school districts? That teachers don’t need more training? That it’s not a problem, despite enormous evidence to the contrary? This is the second year in a row this bill has failed, and it’s a disgrace.

Winners: Students. Lawmakers may not think teacher sex abuse is a problem, but they at least recognized that child labor laws should not be loosened. Sorry to Phillip Pratt and his landscaping business, but House Bill 255 is dead.

Losers: Public school teachers who did not get a sufficient raise in the budget and public schools in general, which in addition to suffering enormous verbal abuse from elected officials and tiny amounts of funding increases, will now have to face a constitutional amendment to send public tax dollars to private and religious schools.

Winners: Gay people, Black people, really anyone who is not straight and white. Anti-DEI legislation, this year’s performative culture war target, could not get to the gate. Maybe legislative leaders looked at substantive legislation like the Momnibus bill and realized how silly this all was? One positive consequence was discussions of DEI led to serious questions about how well underrepresented students are doing at Kentucky universities. Let’s follow up on that, please.

At the same time, the Fairness Campaign reported that 10 anti-LGBTQ bills had failed.

“Today marks a massive victory in the fight against worsening hostility toward LGBTQ Kentuckians,” Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman said. “Over the last few months, thousands across the commonwealth stood fiercely in defense of their LGBTQ friends, family and neighbors, and made it clear to lawmakers: enough is enough.”

Losers: Everyone in Louisville. The GOP supermajority really doubled down on punishing Kentucky’s biggest city, everything from forcing it to hold nonpartisan elections to scrapping really good zoning reforms. The party of local control and small government is dead, long live the party of poking our nose everywhere it doesn’t belong.

Losers: Anyone who supports the tiniest amount of gun safety. The legislature never even considered Sen. Whitney Westerfield’s Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention bill, which might have stopped last year’s tragic mass shooting at Louisville’s Old National Bank.

Winners: Late night comedy writers. This year, they got the cousin incest bill, the fluoride conspiracy and white slavery. Ladies and gentleman, the Kentucky General Assembly, a gift that never stops giving, no matter how much we beg it to stop.