February 14, 2006

Bluegrass Report: Time and Again in Frankfort

As we approach the mid-point of the 2006 Kentucky General Assembly, it is once again that time in the legislature. The session started out strong, with plans outlined to boost teacher pay, overhaul Medicaid and upgrade mine safety. But, once the Jan. 31 filing deadline for 2006 candidates passed, so did the ability of some legislators to restrain their most primal political urges.

The most contentious current bill is legislation offered this month by Northern Kentucky Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, which would outlaw and criminalize all abortions in Kentucky, even in the case of rape or incest. Under her legislation (House Bill 489), performing an abortion would become a class C felony. The law contains no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

Even the staunchest anti-abortion groups were shocked by the legislation, with Kentucky Right to Life publicly predicting it would be declared unconstitutional if it becomes law, thereby “demoralizing anti-abortion activists.”

In an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader, Kentucky Right to Life executive director Margie Montgomery expressed concern about the costs of such a legal battle: “I’ve heard people say, ‘You might as well write out a $400,000 check and hand it over to them.’ It sets the movement back when you get defeats like that.”

The Herald-Leader story noted that while Montgomery’s group has worked for decades to restrict access to abortion, it has never urged Frankfort lawmakers to pass an outright ban. “The reason why we haven’t is, it’s not constitutional,” said Montgomery. “It would be attacked in the courts immediately.”

Such concerns have not slowed Wuchner, however, nor the other 39 co-sponsors of the abortion ban legislation, which includes six Democrats and three members of the Jefferson County delegation (Republicans Ron Crimm and Kevin Bratcher and Democrat Tom Riner).

Kentucky is one of a handful of states where Republicans are pushing outright abortion bans in the hope that the newly reconstituted U. S. Supreme Court will take another look at Roe vs. Wade.

Then there’s the politics — or politicization — of God, another favorite pastime of some legislators.

Despite last year’s Supreme Court decision citing the display of the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky courthouse as unconstitutional, the state House couldn’t act fast enough to vote on thinly veiled new legislation (House Bill 277) that would allow the posting of “historical documents” in local and state government buildings and in schools, as well as require the words “In God We Trust” on the wall in the House of Representatives, behind the speaker’s stand.

The historical document on the minds of every legislator was none other than the Ten Commandments.

It passed the House by a 91-3 vote.

Finally, alas, in Frankfort there’s no such thing as too much pro-gun legislation.

In the House, Democratic leader Bob Damron offered House Bill 290, which would make secret the names of Kentuckians who carry concealed weapons. Critics immediately asked why hunting and fishing licenses, construction permits and virtually all other permits are public, but concealed-weapons permits should be treated differently.

Damron responded by saying that such information is available to law enforcement, then offered, “We see no reason for the press to use the information to harass law-abiding gun owners.” I guess wondering whether a possible stalker has a concealed weapon is harassment. Damron’s bill was voted out of committee and is awaiting a vote of the entire House.

Over in the Senate, legislation easing restrictions on carrying a gun onto school grounds is working its way through the political process. Apparently, gun advocates want to protect people from being prosecuted for bringing weapons onto school grounds that don’t have “No guns allowed” signs. They claim some schools don’t properly warn people against possessing weapons. Seriously.

Under the legislation, those found with weapons on the grounds of schools without such signs would be asked to leave and wouldn’t face prosecution and jail time. The legislation would require schools to clearly post no-gun signs at all entrances to school buildings, gymnasiums, stadiums and cafeterias.

So there you go. With a little more than half of the 60-day legislative session left, there’s no agreement on a budget, no agreement on teacher or state employee raises and no clue how we will adequately fund education for the next two years.

But our public servants have time for two bills that are quite possibly unconstitutional, and to turn over what’s left of the world to the National Rifle Association.

Priorities, I guess.

Mark Nickolas is a former Democratic political consultant and publisher of the blog BluegrassReport.org. Contact him at Mark@BluegrassReport.org