Here’s the state legislation that could impact Kentucky youth

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Since the 2022 legislative session kicked off last month, state lawmakers have introduced a slew of proposals that directly impact young people and children in Kentucky.

The proposed bills cover a range of youth-related issues, including abortion, mental health for LGBTQ minors, corporal punishment and child abuse. Here’s what legislators will be discussing and voting on in the coming weeks. 

Abortion restrictions

Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would make it harder for minors to get an abortion.

Kentucky already requires minors to get parental consent or a judge’s approval before they can have an abortion. But under House Bill 324, parents who consent to their child getting an abortion would need to provide identification, and physicians would be required to sign an affidavit stating they secured consent before performing the procedure. Doctors who violated the provision would face felony prosecution and disciplinary action from the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure.

“It’s very important for us to make sure that these children have the parental consent before they make such a life-altering decision,” said Republican Rep. Nancy Tate. “You know in the schools, we don’t even want our children taking aspirin without their parental consent.”

The current law allows people under the age of 18 to file a petition through the courts if getting parental consent is “not in the best interest of the minor.” The proposal would require a judge to obtain “clear and convincing evidence that the minor is mature,” and that an abortion is in their best interest. A judge would not be allowed to use financial circumstances as a reason to grant an abortion.

“Research suggests that most adolescents do involve a parent in this decision, and those who do not worry that they could damage the relationship with a parent, they fear violence or fear being forced to continue the pregnancy,” said Jackie McGranahan, policy strategist at ACLU Kentucky, which opposes the legislation.

The new bill, McGranahan said, would make the already stringent judicial process even more onerous. 

According to state data obtained by KyCIR, Kentucky judges granted a total of 142 abortions to minors between 2010 and 2020. The courts granted the most petitions — 22 — in 2020.

McGranahan said this increase in petitions means that more and more minors feel that they cannot speak with their parents about their pregnancy due to fear of violence or other harmful outcomes. There’s also a concern among advocates that young people could be dealing with sexual abuse within their home, resulting in pregnancy.

“Decisions about pregnancy are so personal and the best person to make that decision is the pregnant person themselves,” McGranahan said. “It’s not our place, and it’s definitely not the place of the Kentucky General Assembly, to decide for someone else whether or when they should become a parent.”

Other health-related bills:

HB 55 – Certain health insurance policies would be required to cover an annual mental health wellness exam of at least 45 minutes.

HB 183 – Health benefit plans would be required to cover injectable epinephrine devices for minors.

SB 8 – Designed to address loopholes within the state’s existing child abuse and neglect laws, this bill would expand and redefine membership of the Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention Board, to include all forms of child abuse and neglect.

LGBTQ+ Youth

A bill proposed in the state House — the Youth Mental Health Protection Act — would ban conversion therapy on underage LGBTQ individuals in Kentucky. 

Conversion therapy is an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity under the scientifically discredited premise that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer is a mental disorder. 

“We already know that suicide rates are outrageously too high for LGBTQ youth across the board,” said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign. “But for those who have experienced conversion therapy practices, the suicide attempt rate is nearly half of the population.”

Advocacy groups have been trying to ban the practice in Kentucky for years. Several cities have succeeded in passing the ban within their jurisdictions, including Louisville and Lexington.

Under HB 12, licensed mental health professionals — including physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers — would face disciplinary action for violating the act. The use of public funds for sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts would also be prohibited.

“House Bill 12 is a protection for youth. It’s a practice that is detrimental,” said Republican Rep. Kim Banta. “I’ve been told that it doesn’t affect that many people, so it’s not important. But to me, anything that affects a group of youth is important.”

There are at least 145,000 people over the age of 13 in Kentucky who identify as LGBTQ, according to the Movement Advancement Project. According to GLAAD, in states that do not ban the practice, at least 20,000 youth between 13 and 17 years old will receive conversion therapy from a licensed healthcare professional. This is in addition to the estimated 57,000 youth nationwide that undergo conversion therapy from religious or spiritual advisors.

As advocates and legislators work to increase mental health protections for queer youth, some Republican legislators are looking to pass bills that would specifically prevent transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming health care.

Under HB 253 and SB 84, trans youth wouldn’t be able to receive any gender transition procedures, including hormone therapy, body reconstructions, plastic surgery or speech therapy. Physicians who offer gender-affirming health care with minors would be subject to disciplinary action.

These bills are sponsored by eight Republicans in the House and Senate, including Rep. Savannah Maddox, who wrote on her Facebook page that “every child deserves the opportunity to experience a natural childhood” and should not be given the chance to make life-altering decisions as a minor. 

Hartman of the Fairness Campaign called these bills, and others that would limit trans youth from participating in sports teams, “attacks on trans kids.” 

“The people introducing these bills, I would wager, don’t know any trans folks, certainly don’t know any trans youth, and have no idea the harm that they do just by introducing these measures and having them debated in the state legislature,” Hartman said.

Other LGBTQ Youth-related bills:

HB 23, HB 247 & SB 83 – These bills aim to prevent trans youth from participating in sports team that do not align with their biological sex.

Education

Kentucky is one of 19 states that still permit local school districts to administer corporal punishment, or the use of physical force such as paddling, to discipline students. HB 119 is the latest bipartisan effort to eliminate the practice across the state. 

Many Kentucky school districts have already created policies to prohibit the practice, but according to Rep. Tina Bojanowski, a Democrat from Louisville and sponsor of the bill, some districts either don’t have a clear policy at all or have a policy that explicitly permits it.

“As a special education teacher, I see a lot of kids with behavior issues and some of them are already working through trauma from at home,” she said. “The absolute last thing we want to do for our kids, particularly the ones who are acting out behaviorally, is to hit them.”

Alex Young, a senior at Saint Xavier High School, has been advocating for the end of corporal punishment for five years, calling it a “barbaric” practice the disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable kids.

According to state data, of the 142 instances of corporal punishment during the 2019-20 school year, almost half involved a child with a disability. 

Recently, the Kentucky Board of Education voted to limit the use of corporal punishment in schools, specifically stating that students with disabilities, students facing housing insecurity or students in foster care can’t receive corporal punishment.

“The trusted relationships we need in schools are virtually impossible to form when the threat of violence against students exists in the form of paddling,” Young wrote in an op-ed published in the Courier Journal. “If we want students to respect and trust adults, hitting them under any circumstances is unequivocally the wrong answer.”

Other education-related bills:

HB 18 & HB 14 – Schools and teachers would be prohibited from classroom discussion of race, sex, or religion and would face discipline/fines for violating.

HB 66 – The state would eliminate half-day kindergarten programs and would invest strictly in full-day programs to help boost early education outcomes of Kentucky kids.

HB 31 – Schools would be prohibited from discriminating or disciplining a student based off of hair styles historically associated with race. 

HB 44 –  Local school districts would be required to amend their attendance policies to include provisions for a student’s mental or behavioral health status.

HB 63 – Would require school boards to have armed resource officers in all Kentucky schools by August 2022

HB 67 – Would require high school curriculums to include the teaching of racism. 

HB 88 – Would require teaching about African-American and Native American history in middle and high school history courses.

HB 94 – Would include naloxone among the medications each school should have on hand to be administered by a trained employee if necessary.

Criminal Code

A Republican-led bill would increase penalties of child abuse in Kentucky if the child is under 12 years of age.

Under HB 263, an adult who causes physical injury, inflicts cruel punishment or confinement to a child under the age of 12, or a child who is physically or mentally disadvantaged, would  face a Class B felony in Kentucky, rather than Class C. People convicted of Class B felonies face 10 to 20 years of imprisonment.

There are 20 Republican sponsors on the bill, including Rep. C. Ed Massey of Boone County and Speaker of the House David W. Osborne of Oldham County. Neither of them responded to requests for an interview.

Other criminal code-related bills:

HB 292 – Would make it a crime to unlawfully store a firearm and establish elements of the crime for recklessly allowing access to an unsecured firearm by a minor.

SB 74 – Would require a court referral for truancy cases when there is no improvement within 30 days and require a court-designated worker to make a finding if diversion is failed due to lack of parental cooperation 

 

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