At the conclusion of the 2022 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky is expressing gratitude for some successes and concern over some “troubling” legislation.
During the 2022 session, the conference worked on the passage of measures related to the dignity of life and the family. Measures related to poverty and taxation were among the disappointments this session, according to Jason Hall, executive director of the conference, which represents Kentucky’s four bishops on matters of public policy.
“Last year there were seven or eight bills that passed,” said Hall in an interview April 18. “This year was a mixed bag.”
A “big victory” this session, Hall said, is the bipartisan passage of House Bill 269, which bans the execution of people who have been diagnosed with certain serious mental illnesses before they committed the capital offense. Governor Andy Beshear signed the bill earlier this month.
Another bill related to the dignity of life, House Bill 3, includes various regulations related to pharmaceutical abortions. One clause has caused the abortion clinic in downtown Louisville to close its doors temporarily while the law is challenged. It also includes an abortion ban after 15 weeks of gestation.
HB 3 was vetoed by the governor but became law immediately after legislators voted to override the veto.
“We’re grateful for the temporary stop,” Hall said. “And we are grateful for the regulation of the dispensing of these drugs that may lead to better health outcomes for women.
“But the big focus for the year is the Dobbs decision (before the United States Supreme Court) telling us what a state can do,” he said, referring to the 15-week ban.
Kentucky’s ban is similar to the ban in Mississippi’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said Hall. This summer, the high court will issue a ruling in the case, which involves Mississippi’s law banning most abortions after 15 weeks.
Catholic News Service has reported that the court is expected to uphold the law and in doing so overturn Roe v. Wade, returning the abortion issue to the states.
For that reason, Hall said, the conference is focused on promoting YES for Life, which aims to highlight November’s vote on amendment two. The amendment seeks to clarify that there is no right to abortion or the funding of abortion in the state’s constitution.
On the subject of family, the conference is applauding the passage of House Bill 499 which creates a child care assistance pilot program in the second year of the budget. The program helps employers provide child care as a benefit.
“That would be very pro-family compared to what we have now,” said Hall. “I think it’s very positive.”
Overall, he said, “There was a larger focus this session on the part of legislators and the business community on workforce development and workforce shortage. It yielded some positive things like House Bill 499, but it also yielded some troublesome things like House Bill 4.”
HB 4, which reduces benefits for people who have lost their jobs, “really hits folks who encounter economic disruption in their lives,” said Hall.
The conference is also concerned about House Bill 7, which affects people who receive public assistance. The bill started out “very, very problematic,” said Hall. In its final form, the approved measure “represents an approach that gives those who receive public assistance more hoops to jump through.
And it leaves room for more down the road for a future administration.”
House Bill 8, a tax reform measure, also concerns the bishops, said Hall. The final version of the approved bill “sets up triggers to reduce the income tax rate over time.”
The bill represents an intention to shift the state away from an income tax and toward a consumption-based tax, said Hall.
“We don’t like where the bill is going, but our advocacy efforts had an impact in slowing down the damage the bill will do,” he said.
“When you move away from income tax to consumption-based taxes it’s regressive,” he said, noting the income taxes place the burden on those who can afford to pay.
Among the issues the conference worked on that didn’t make progress this session were measures related to education, criminal justice, people without homes and refugee assistance.
The conference is also making plans for future sessions to advocate for legislation that stalled.