Editorials

Lawmakers find ways to divide, pander

Shawn Helbig, a member of the board of the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police, testified Feb. 8 in support of a bill that would make police officers, firefighters and EMS workers a protected class under Kentucky’s hate-crime law. Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, right, sponsored the bill.
Shawn Helbig, a member of the board of the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police, testified Feb. 8 in support of a bill that would make police officers, firefighters and EMS workers a protected class under Kentucky’s hate-crime law. Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, right, sponsored the bill. Daniel Desrochers ddesrochers@herald-leader.com

Consistent with its desire to cultivate a business-friendly, pro-growth image, the legislature’s new Republican majority is shunning bills that condone discrimination in the name of religious freedom or privacy.

Kentucky Republicans heartily endorsed such bills in the past. But — at the urging of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and after seeing a discriminatory law backfire on North Carolina — Republican lawmakers are not that interested this year.

We should all applaud House Speaker Jeff Hoover for recently squelching any further talk in this session of a “bathroom bill,” legislation that would supplant educators’ judgment on how to accommodate transgender students in public schools.

Also, no Republican is sponsoring a bill to legitimize discrimination against gays on grounds of a religious objection to same-sex marriage. The conservative Family Foundation wants both.

Nonetheless, lawmakers are finding ways to waste their time on meaningless bills that divide and pander.

Even the Family Foundation acknowledges that Sen. Albert Robinson’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Senate Bill 17 merely repeats what’s already well-established law in terms of students’ rights to religious expression. It’s one bone that lawmakers can throw the Family Foundation, however. And the upper chamber apparently had nothing better to do. So SB 17 flew out of a Senate committee and the full Senate and now awaits House action.

More pernicious, House Bill 14 seems almost designed to inflame relations between police and citizens. Modeled on Louisiana’s “blue lives matter law,” HB 14 makes law enforcement and other first responders a protected class under Kentucky’s hate-crime law.

Except for the divisive symbolism, House Bill 14 is meaningless. Kentucky law already provides harsher penalties for crimes against law-enforcement officers. And homicide is not among the 28 offenses covered by the state hate-crime law, which did not stop House members from orating about officers killed in the line of duty. Over protesters’ shouts from the gallery, the House overwhelmingly approved the bill.

While it may have been intended as a show of support for law enforcement, HB 14 does nothing to make Kentucky’s first responders safer. It does pervert the purpose of both hate-crime laws and the Black Lives Matter movement. And it hurts and insults Kentuckians — black, white and brown — who are legitimately troubled that black Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to be killed by police officers.

Lexington can be proud that two of its lawmakers, Reps. George Brown and Kelly Flood, were among the 13 Democrats who had the courage to cast dissenting votes.

That the majority of the House didn’t mind rubbing salt in a racial wound is troubling and does nothing to enhance Kentucky’s image as a place that’s open and welcoming to all.

The Senate would be smart (and business-friendly) to let HB 14 die.

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