On Saturday, locals made their concerns known to area legislators at a town hall meeting in the auditorium at Frankfort High School.
Questions asked of Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, Rep. Dan Fister, R-Versailles, and Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, covered topics such as Southworth’s bill that would prohibit mask mandates during public health emergencies, the Kentucky Employees Retirement System (KERS), police reform, voter fraud and more.
Southworth said her Senate Bill 158 to prohibit a statewide mask mandate is waiting to be assigned to a committee. She presumes it will go to a public health committee.
“I took a cue from what people have been saying about how they feel about people, groups and businesses choosing what they want to do for their own health,” Southworth said. “I’m all about choices. How do we get out of the emergency zone? We’re looking at the long term.”
Regarding wearing masks, Graham spoke in support of the measures that Gov. Andy Beshear has taken to protect Kentuckians during COVID-19.
“I believe in science,” Graham said. “We can look at what has happened in Kentucky with the governor taking initiative to require social distancing and masks. As a result, if you look at Kentucky and the surrounding states, we are doing a whole lot better than they are and that’s because since the very beginning of this pandemic, the governor seized the opportunity to tell us that this was going to be a long-haul situation, and for us to best protect ourselves, based on the science that has been provided, was to social distance and wear masks."
Graham fielded a question regarding House Bill 8, which would change the KERS contribution that is payable by employers, from a “value that is paid as a percent of pay on each employee to a set dollar amount,” according to a summary of the bill on legislature.ky.gov.
Along with affecting state agencies, it would also effect “quasi” agencies like local health departments. Graham said he voted for it, but he has some reservations about it.
“In Franklin County, along with the health department, another agency included is the (Capital City) Activity Center,” Graham said. “The way the deal is written, the agency will have to make up double the amount. She (the director) was paying about $64,000 into the system and now she will have to pay $130,000, of which she said they will not be able to make that payment. There’s ramifications behind the bill that needs work.”
Fister commented about HB 8 as well.
“The underlying issue is we have a problem for pensions,” Fister said. “They have not been paid into as they should and have been abused in some ways. House Bill 8, I think, goes a long way in helping some of these quasi agencies out, but some are going to get hurt as well. It’s an ongoing process, but we’re working on it.”
Southworth said that she’s been asked by some groups to support it and that she likes the idea of it, however, she said that the way it is set up now, it may hurt agencies that have a long-term staff because it would only calculate an agency’s budget every four years.
“The way I saw the calculations going is that it may actually be hurting long-term staff and encouraging turnover, and we all know turnover on staff is not good for an organization and I don’t want to set up a pension system that encourages turnover,” Southworth said. “It could end up being detrimental.
“If we kept up with agencies every year, to where they weren’t using old numbers, I think that could be beneficial. In essence, I love the idea of getting all these quasi agencies taken care of one at a time. I don’t know if a one-size-fits-all is a solution, but I’m interested in getting to that solution.”
The issue of “defunding the police” was also brought up during the town hall meeting.
Southworth said there is confusion in defunding.
“Every public service has to have funds,” she said. She would like to see the funds they do receive be used for more training.
“I think we can always be better trained,” she said. “There needs to be more training in threat assessment and use of force — helping our officers have skills to be more confident.”
Graham said he doesn’t believe in defunding officers. He said focus needs to be put on building relationships between police departments and communities.
“In the '90s, I served on the city commission,” Graham said. “We improved relationships between the police department and the community. Police would come by way of bikes or walking, and they built relationships with the community.
“They built relationships with the elderly. Officers would be in the park playing basketball or playing games on the playground. Every citizen within the community should trust, believe and be supportive of our law enforcement system.”
Regarding a question about how the legislators plan to address voter fraud in the state, Southworth said there is a bill about getting voter machines updated to require paper ballots and to make sure they’re not connected to the internet, since that is a federal regulation.
Graham also commented on voter fraud in the state.
“There are 120 county clerks in the state and most are Republican,” Graham said. “My county clerk here in Franklin County, Jeff Hancock, said that this has been one of the best election cycles since he has been county clerk.
“Every person who wanted to vote could vote. We had drop boxes and voting centers. As a result of that, I don’t believe that anyone in this room would agree that our election was fraudulent. (Republicans in the House of Representatives) gained 19 seats; would you say those 19 seats they gained were fraudulent? I don’t buy the argument that this election was fraudulent. The opinion of those in charge of elections in Kentucky have all said that we had a good election.”
His opinion was met with sighs of opposition by some in the crowd, so Graham asked if their opinion on the election being fraudulent was because of voters in cities across the country who were people of color. That comment was met with applause by other members of the crowd.
“Lets ask the question,” he said. “What is the problem? Why do we say the election is fraudulent?”
One attendee then told Graham that he had a friend who received two absentee ballots.
“I hope he turned them back in to the county clerk’s office,” Graham replied.
One of the final questions of the meeting came from Gerry Seavo James, who after offering his thoughts on why he felt the commonwealth of Kentucky is broken, asked the legislators how they were going to bring Kentuckians back together.
“My favorite conversations are with people who have different perspectives from me,” Southworth said. “Having these conversations is supportive.”
Fister said that social media has a lot to do with causing the divide between Kentuckians.
“Sitting there looking at that screen on a laptop, that’s the killer to our society,” Fister said. “You can sit behind that keyboard, you’re a warrior; you’ll say things that you would never say to a person in person and there’s no ramification for it. You feel tough because you got your point across.
“We as a society need to get back to where we respect each other.”
Graham recognized the fact that he, Fister and Southworth were all on the same stage on Saturday.
“Southworth could have had this on her own, but she reached out to the two of us and that shows that we can come to an agreement,” Graham said. “Our voters expect us to be their voice. We work for all voters whether they’re Democrats, Republicans or independents.
“This whole country has always been about compromise. The Constitution was written through compromise. We have got to get back to working together for the good of the commonwealth and the people of the commonwealth, and in Washington, D.C.”