CCK sees successes, disappointments in 2019 General Assembly

By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor

The 2019 session of the Kentucky General Assembly is scheduled to have its last legislative day tomorrow, March 28. Most of the legislation supported by the Catholic Conference of Kentucky has either been approved or is considered dead.

Two CCK priorities still have life — the Kentucky Pregnant Workers’ Act (Senate Bill 18) and the Infants Born Alive Protection Act (Senate Bill 227).

The latter provides legal protections for a child who survives a failed abortion. The CCK feels confident that bill will pass, said Jason Hall, executive director of the conference, which represents Kentucky’s four bishops on matters of public policy.

The bill to protect pregnant workers “hangs in the balance,” said Hall, urging Catholics to call legislators in support of the bill.

The bill requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant women and nursing mothers in the workplace.

The conference supports the measure both because it deals with workers’ rights and because it’s a life issue, said Hall. The bill passed the Senate with a 25 to 7 vote and has the required readings in the House. It awaits a floor vote, which could still happen, he said.

Kentucky’s bishops said they applaud Senate Bill 18 and two measures to restrict abortion after they passed both chambers.

“Being pro-life requires defense of both unborn children and their mothers,” the bishops said in a March 15 statement.

The statement urged lawmakers to pass the Kentucky Pregnant Workers’ Act and praised lawmakers for passing House Bills 148 and 5.

House Bill 148, a so-called trigger bill, would make abortion illegal in Kentucky if the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision is overturned.

House Bill 5 prohibits abortion sought because of the child’s gender, race, color, national origin or disability. A judge has temporarily blocked this law.

Gov. Matt Bevin has signed both bills into law. The governor has also signed Senate Bill 9, which bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. A judge has temporarily blocked this law also.

The bishops’ statement also highlighted progress on a bill to abolish the death penalty, House Bill 115. They noted that the bill, which is proposed year after year, had a record number of cosponsors this year.

“We are encouraged by the growing support for ending capital punishment in our Commonwealth,” the statement said.

The Catholic Conference also saw some disappointments this session.

Conference priority House Bill 205, the controversial school choice tax credit bill, died in committee in mid-March.

“On the positive side, we did make progress,” said Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the CCK. “It was heard in Appropriations and Revenue (committee), which has never happened before. We’re getting more calls to legislators than ever before. The awareness of the public has greatly increased.”

The bill, which has been proposed for several years, has had bipartisan sponsorship in the past, but solely drew Republican sponsors this year. It would provide state tax credits to those who give donations to certain scholarship-granting organizations, such as the Catholic Education Foundation in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

The scholarship-granting organizations would award the funds to students who demonstrate financial need or who have special needs.

The bill was opposed by Kentucky teachers’ unions and superintendents of public schools. In opposition to the bill, and two others, hundreds of public school teachers repeatedly held demonstrations at the capitol, canceling school in some districts.

The CCK plans to support similar legislation next session, noting that the bill needs the support of additional Republicans as well as Democrats in order to succeed.

He added, “Catholics … really need to ask their legislators, ‘Do you support educational choice?’ and get solid answers on those things.”

Following are several other measures the CCK has been following:

  • Out of concern for public safety, the CCK opposed Senate Bill 150, which has been signed by the governor. The law allows people 21 and older who are legally allowed to possess a concealed deadly weapon to do so without a license.

    “Our concern is that it’s yet one more very reasonable step regarding gun safety that’s now removed,” said Hall. “All the concealed carry system required before was a background check and some training. Now those things have gone away.”

    The CCK aligns itself with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in advocating for gun control.
  • Hall said another disappointment this session was the fate of Senate Bill 17. The measure would have prohibited use of the death penalty when the defendant has been diagnosed with mental illness. It was approved by the Judiciary Committee “then stalled on the procedural aspects, such as how it would work in the courts,” said Hall.
  • Criminal justice reform has long been a concern of Kentucky’s bishops. This session saw little development, though Hall praised the passage of Senate Bill 57, which reduces the cost of an expungement. Hall said he expects criminal justice reform to be an issue in the 2020 session.

    The conference welcomed House Bill 110, which received little attention during the session, though it was passed by both chambers.The measure allows funeral directors to inter cremated remains that go unclaimed for more than two years. The funeral director may alternately allow a religious organization, civic group or veterans’ organization to inter the unclaimed remains.“This may be something some parishes or Catholic cemeteries may be interested in,” said Hall. “Burying the dead and giving a respectful burial in view of the resurrection  is one of the corporal works of mercy.”
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