Friday, March 13, 2009

One small step forward for the USA, several giant leaps backward for Kentucky

In the midst of one of the nation's biggest progressive movements, we see more and more progressive thought and ideology being accepted into the mainstream. "Green" is trendy now; folks are starting to wise up from the Bush administration's mistakes, and Obama is doing his part to right the wrongs of the previous chief executive. Some states are taking advantage of their geography and land layout to help develop alternative and renewable energy. California's general assembly has introduced legislation that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis, making their state an estimated $14 billion extra per year in revenue, assuming the bill gets signed into law. And the president has recently ruled that federal marijuana statutes will no longer override state laws when it comes to marijuana. This is just after his ruling to overturn the ban on embryonic stem cell research that Bush put into place. However, despite such progressive actions and ideas entering the public discourse, Kentucky remains an anomaly despite an outright growth nationwide of liberal thought and ideas.

In this post, I'll be looking back at some of the more controversial measures passed by our state legislators; most of which have nothing to do with the present budget crisis, relieving burdens on state taxpayers, or the betterment of the state. While I don't deny Kentucky has done some things this session to help balance our deficit, and that this is a non-budget session year, for the most part our legislators have ignored the needs of the people and have continued to pander to the arch-conservative lobby and the will of the religious right.

Senate Bill 5
Most of us by now have most likely heard about California's Assembly Bill 390, which would regulate the growth, sale, use, and possession of cannabis, as well as provide adequate and accurate education about what it is and its effects on the body from a scientific standpoint, as opposed to the fearmongering standard taught by DARE officers and set by guys like Harry Anslinger. This bill would relieve California's $60 B deficit in less than a decade, as their state's cannabis market already pulls in an estimated $14 B per year. Just for comparison, California's second-biggest cash crop is grapes for their world-famous wine. That totals around $2 billion per year. Kentucky could also benefit from a legal cannabis market very easily financially, as estimates for revenue lie between $400 million and $600 million per year. Either way, it would instantly solve our half-billion dollar budget crisis.

Currently, Kentucky's laws for DUI require a driver to have a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) level of .07, which is the equivalent of 7 beers/7 glasses of wine/7 shots of 80 proof. Senate Bill 5 is a bill that would allow DUI laws to also extend to THC content in the body. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the active ingredient in cannabis. The difference between THC level and BAC level is that while alcohol filters through your system, you feel its effects from the moment the drug hits your brain to the moment it's completely gone from your system. Hence, alcohol gives you hangovers.

THC can still remain in your body for up to days after you smoke cannabis, even though you could be completely sober. So in a nutshell, this is a bill meant to further punish cannabis users with DUI charges, court fines and prison, even though they may be completely sober at the time they're pulled over. This is the exact opposite of where this country needs to be going with marijuana legislation.

Senate Bill 68
Here in the Bible Belt (Kentucky, the midwest, and the deep south) we're all pretty sensitive about anything involving homosexuality, the homosexual lifestyle, gay rights, and religions other than Christianity. However, our country has been nonetheless making great strides in making gay marriage legal; Connecticut and Massachusetts already allow it. California allowed it briefly before the Mormons led the national conservative/religious right lobby to support Prop 8, which could still be ruled unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, despite the progressive movement for gay rights and Kentucky having much more important things to worry about than oppressing gays, Kentucky's legislature is working really hard to oppress gays. SB 68's language is such that it doesn't directly target gays, but it might as well.

If passed, SB 68 would outlaw adoption by anyone who isn't a legally married couple. Sure, unmarried heterosexual couples would be forbidden from adopting or foster care, but this bill was meant for gays. As the bill's sponsor, Republican (surprise, surprise!) Gary Tapp from Louisville says, this bill was drawn up to more clearly define that "marriage is between one man and one woman."

Don't ask me what a bill like this does to help solve important state issues like Kentucky's budget crisis, healthcare, job market, education, or, say, helping orphaned kids find foster families to live with. As for those things, I'm not sure. But this bill would undoubtedly make the conservative religious right (likely a good 80% of Kentucky's voting populace) happy by further oppressing a minority. Traditionalists win, and Kentucky takes another regressive step backward culturally.

Just for the record, former apartheid-ridden nation South Africa now allows gay marriage.

Senate Bill 188
As the Bush administration's controversial views on the constitution and answering to the people left the White House, Obama came in, promising government accountability and transparency. Conservatives would say he's failed there, but he's certainly willing to hold himself more accountable and be more transparent than the Patriot Act/War on Terrorism/Illegal Wiretapping/Detainment and Torture president we used to have.

Kentucky seems to be following the same path Bush was on as both the House Speaker (Democrat Greg Stumbo) and the Senate President (Republican David Williams), who never agree on anything, finally agreed on something; the creation of a powerful government watchdog group that "oversees the efficient spending of taxpayer money." This apparently involves holding secret meetings, delaying the release of public reports, and being largely exonerated from scrutiny. This reeks of the Bush administration's secretive practices and the "Executive Privilege" Bush constantly granted himself when it came to "matters of national security."

When I asked him about it, Governor Beshear told me it sounded unconstitutional and that it infringes on the duties of State Auditor Crit Luallen, whose only job is overseeing the efficient spending of Kentucky's tax dollars. He said this bill, along with SB 68, will be looked at in the interim. I'm still skeptical as to what he plans to do with them should they reach his desk, so I'll keep all of you informed as I learn more.

Senate Bill 79
Abortion is another touchy topic for ultra-conservative Christians, which, as stated earlier, and as many of you are probably aware, make up a majority of Kentucky's voting percentage. Obama becoming president, combined with the waning health of supreme court justices like Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsberg will likely mean that the president will appoint liberally-minded judges to preside over the SCOTUS. One could infer that Roe v. Wade will remain in effect for a long time should Obama make those appointments in his tenure.

However, while abortion has literally nothing to do with any of the pressing issues Kentucky faces, the senate decided to approve legislation 33-4 that would require women in Kentucky looking to get abortions to meet with their doctor 24 hours before the procedure occurs, and to be shown an ultrasound of their fetus. Like SB 68, the bill's language is such that it doesn't literally speak out against the practice of abortion, but it very openly aims to guilt women looking to get abortions to renege on their decision, which is indirectly a state suppression of the right to choose.

Thankfully, this bill was killed in a House committee before going to the Governor's desk. But I wouldn't be surprised to see it show up in future sessions, so keep an eye open and keep up contact with your legislators.

House Bill 228
I first mentioned SB 5, which targets marijuana users. I also mentioned California's AB 390 which has gotten lots of press. There are also currently 13 states that allow the medical use of marijuana for pain relief and appetite restoration among patients. However, users of an entirely legal drug could soon be punished in Kentucky if HB 228 goes through.

House Bill 228 looks to make Salvia Divinorum, a hallucinogenic herb, illegal in Kentucky. Not because it's harmful; its effects are only temporary, and trips last around 5-10 minutes. But legislators in Kentucky, as we've seen, love to pander to the conservative right to gain those re-election votes.

For those of you who don't know what Salvia is, it's basically an herb that you can smoke or chew. You can buy it at different concentrations, from 5x to 50x or even 100x, so I've heard. After the ten-minute trip, users of Salvia return back to normal and go on about their lives, rather than wreck things and fight and drive badly, as alcohol users might. Kentucky's legislature wants to group this into the same category as marijuana, meaning there would be penalties in place for Salvia users if caught. Again, this is a huge step backward from where this country needs to be headed with both drug legislation and the war on drugs altogether.

I find it quite hypocritical that Republicans who say they want a smaller government, and a less powerful government overall that doesn't intrude into people's personal business, so strongly support legislation like these bills, which accomplish nothing except making local government excessively powerful and regulatory. It doesn't serve the needs of the people to further oppress minorities, or further punish the users of a quite harmless drug, or make even more harmless drugs illegal, or to assert religious dominance over women making personal choices about their own bodies.

I don't think our legislators are listening to the people anymore. I'd like to see this whole bunch out of Frankfort, and have REAL representatives of the people who actually care about the concerns of Kentuckians making the decisions for once.


  1. That's why I moved away.

    Yeah, the reason Salvia is legal is because it totally sucks. I mean, why bother?

  2. Salvia does suck. Totally doesn't even do anything.