FRANKFORT, Ky. – Legislation to address racial inequalities and focus on opportunities has advanced to the Kentucky House.
“Life has taught me a few things and most of those have been around understanding,” Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, said while presenting the measure on Wednesday. “You can’t understand what you don’t know. I can’t understand what I close my mind to. I can’t understand when I won’t listen first.”
He then challenged his colleagues to join him on a journey of understanding by voting for the legislation, known as Senate Bill 10. It would establish the Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity within the legislative branch. The group would analyze inequities across various sectors – including education, child welfare, health care, the economy and criminal justice system.
Givens said he introduced SB 10 following months of civil unrest that saw demonstrations in Kentucky and across the nation that denounced police brutality in the wake of several high-profile killings.
“What if we could put a process in motion to say, let’s shape policy in the future to avoid some of the sorts of things that we have either inadvertently created or purposely created or unknowingly created,” Given said. He explained that the commission would be tasked with publishing an annual report with recommendations on any potential legislative or administrative actions.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said SB 10 was a good first step that produces actionable legislation that addresses disparities.
“There have been bills filed by folks in both caucuses that address specific issues related to race … that haven’t moved forward,” he said. “(SB 10) doesn’t come in and solve all that … but it’s moving the ball forward. I’ll take a little bit of movement in lieu of no movement at all any day.”
Givens, Westerfield and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, were primary sponsors of SB 10.
Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, also stood in support of SB 10. He said he disagrees with friends who have expressed the opinion that SB 10 was just feel-good legislation taking the place of real reforms.
“I think something different is happening here,” Neal said. “I think there is sincerity behind this. I think ownership is being expressed here. This offers opportunity, and we should approach this opportunity optimistically.”
He said there were people in society negatively impacted by the legacy of slavery, and the lawmakers should examine what they can do to correct the injustice.
“It’s real,” Neal said. “There is a connection. It lives with us today in many forms.”
The bipartisan commission would consist of 13 members including the executive director of the Kentucky Human Rights Commission, eight legislators and four members from the private and nonprofit sectors with expertise in areas being studied.
Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, dedicated her vote for SB 10 to Kentucky native Alice Allison Dunnigan, a civil rights activist, newspaper reporter in Washington D.C. and author. Dunnigan, who died in 1983, also served on the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity under two administrations.
SB 10 passed by a 35-1 vote. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.