State Sen. Robby Mills and Rep. Jonathan Dixon say there will be future discussions at the state level on gun violence.
Responding to a question about how gun violence can be curbed in Kentucky at the Henderson Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Review on April 17, Mills said talks will come but made no other pledges. Most in the Republican caucus believe that mental health issues, not guns, are the primary reason for the rash of mass shootings in the U.S., he said.
The legislators were responding to a question from Rev. Charles Johnson, the executive director of the Henderson-Henderson County Human Rights Commission.
Johnson, in his questioning, said gun-related tragedies are seen constantly in the nation and noted now one has “inflicted pain on our community,” a reference to Juliana Farmer, a Henderson native who was one of five victims in a mass shooting in Louisville on April 10.
Farmer had only recently moved away from Henderson to take a job at a downtown branch of Old National Bank in Louisville, where the shooting occurred.
Dixon said Farmer’s death hits close to home and opens the door for discussion.
“The discussion has to be had,” he said.
Mills said gun laws currently on the books need to be enforced fully.
Reached after the meeting, Johnson said he agrees with Mills that mental health is a giant challenge. He said the mass shooting problem is a difficult one.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” he said.
During the meeting, the legislators spoke for about an hour about legislative wins they were a part of during the 2023 Regular Session, which ended in late March.
Some highlights include:
• Mills said SB9, also known as Lofton’s Law, makes hazing a felony if death or serious bodily injury is a result. Mills sponsored the bill. The bill is named for Lofton Hazelwood, a Henderson resident and University of Kentucky freshman who died from alcohol poisoning in 2021. He was a new member of FarmHouse fraternity.
• Dixon hailed HB1, a bill he co-sponsored that will take the individual income tax from 5 percent to 4.5 percent for 2023. If enough tax revenue is in state coffers the following year, the tax rate will be reduced to 4 percent. And the tax rate will continue, he said, on a “march to zero.”
• Mills said SB4, what he described as a grid reliability bill, will allow coal-fired power plants to remain open longer. He said the nationwide conversion to renewable energy is occurring before enough reliable sources are in place.
Under this bill, a utility requesting a coal-fired power plant closure must demonstrate that the shuttering will not negatively impact the grid’s reliability or resilience, nor the affordability of customers’ electricity rates, according to the Legislative Research Commission website.
“It’s going to keep us burning coal in Kentucky for a long time,” Mills said.
• Dixon supported SB 47, which legalizes medical marijuana, because he found strong support for it when he was campaigning. The LRC website said some sections will go into effect Jan. 1, 2025.
“I think this will help a lot of Kentuckians,” Dixon said. “It’s a medicine. It’s to help people. Hopefully our farmers will grow it. We’ll see where it goes from there.”
Only patients with qualifying medical conditions are approved for medicinal cannabis.
• Mills said SB5, what’s been referred to as the “book-banning bill,” allows parents to file a complaint about a book or material in school they see as harmful. School administration would then have 10 days to respond. The decision about the book would then need to be posted to the school’s or the school district’s website, Mills said.
He said the spirit of the law pertains to books containing obscene material or subject area counter to religious or personal beliefs, but parents can file a complaint about any book they determine offensive, including classic works of literature.
• Mills called SB 150, of what some have called an “anti-trans” bill, a “very straightforward” piece of legislation that required a “substantial amount of time” to get written.
Perhaps the most contentious bill during the last session, it prohibits any student from receiving instruction that explores gender identity and expression, or sexual orientation, according to the LRC website. The bill also prohibits schools from providing sex education for students fifth grade and below, requires parental consent for sex education for students sixth grade and higher and forbids school districts from requiring faculty and staff to use pronouns other than a student’s designation at birth, among other provisions.
Cooper Wayne-Benson Beck, a member of the Matthew 25 board of directors, said SB 150 has effectively gone after LGTBQ students’ safe places at schools. Beck said the legislation terrifies transgender high school students.
Mills, however, described it as a parental rights bill, giving parents more say in what their children are exposed to in school, and students still can receive care outside of school.
Dixon said that students are still able to seek safe spaces with high school counselors.
“Counselors are not in this bill,” Dixon said.
Other bills passed will eliminate state taxes on liquor being stored in warehouses, authorize personal sports betting and remove ‘gray games,’ such as Burning Barrel, from the state.