This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier Journal on April 21, 2022.
By Dr. Terry Brooks
In a press conference before the historic launch of Apollo 11 to the moon, Neil Armstrong was asked about the answers he hoped to discover with his moonwalk. He responded by asserting that he will likely have more questions to ask than answers. That is how I feel as we leave the 2022 Kentucky General Assembly – I have a whole bunch of questions to ask!
As an example, Republican lawmakers have historically championed local control. I now wonder, is that still their governing North Star or is the Kentucky GOP becoming the party of big government? In 2019, SB 1 placed a primacy on principals and superintendents to customize local strategies to protect schools and build student resiliency.
This session, HB 63 proclaims that Frankfort knows best and that the only acceptable path is through school resource officers, whether that is the best option for a school or not. Another example is the failure of SB 166. Senator Schroder was offering a simple measure to protect kids from the growing epidemic of vaping. Local communities would have the option – not mandate – to regulate advertising of the harmful products. Big money from outside groups stopped that and the message was sent – Frankfort… and big tobacco… know best and we’ll treat every community the same.
The coming years will tell whether 2022’s move towards a GOP version of “big brother governance” is an aberration or a directional change.
Another question deals with the locus of policymaking. For years, I was proud that Kentucky lawmakers – from the left and from the right – stood firm against national groups shopping one-size-fits-all policies for the commonwealth. However, 2022 leaves me wondering, will Kentucky lawmakers continue to believe that Kentucky laws are best written by Kentuckians?
As an example, a national group and high-priced Kentucky lobbyists aggressively shopped a national agenda around slashing public benefits. Speaker Osborne, Rep. Meade, and Sen. Givens found a thoughtful compromise, and while I am still worried about the unintended impact of HB 7 on vulnerable families, it is a far better bill than had we genuflected to that external group’s mandates.
A third question is, what happened to the promising work of the Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity? That group, co-chaired artfully by Sen. Givens and Rep. Heavrin, left its last regular meeting brimming with common sense and common ground policy ideas to address racial and zip code disparities. Their hard work went missing in action when the opening gavel fell, so I must wonder if their good thinking was in vain? And more importantly, can the Commission find a process to make sure their commitment bears fruit in 2023?
However, these questions cannot dismiss the important efforts by the General Assembly around strengthening the child welfare system and maltreatment prevention, health coverage for new mothers, school-based mental health supports, child care access, student nutrition and full-day kindergarten. The Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children – a coalition of advocates that speak with a common voice to create brighter futures for all Kentucky kids – are celebrating these policy wins and budget investments that will positively impact families across the commonwealth and thank Reps. Cantrell, Heavrin, Kulkarni, Meade, Moser, Osborne and Petrie, as well as Sens. Carroll, Givens, Howell, McDaniels, Raque Adams and Wise for championing these pieces of legislation.
Yet, the questions remain.
There are sessions that are filled with extraordinary landmark legislation. There are sessions pockmarked with bad ideas. And then there is this session – filled with contradictions and ambiguities. As Kentucky kids and advocates look towards 2023, we have a bunch more questions than answers.
Terry Brooks is the executive director at Kentucky Youth Advocates. Learn more at kyyouth.org.