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Louisville Democrats Push Against Frankfort Agenda

A dozen Louisville Democrats huddled in a downtown park Thursday calling for peace and partnership with Frankfort Republicans.

The Louisville Metro Council members convened for a scheduled news conference to rebuke efforts of some state lawmakers to tinker with the city's Metro government.

They each took turns at a lectern to denounce a handful of proposed bills in the General Assembly that take aim at the city's Democratic controlled government and to offer support for other measures that align with their own agenda.

Their public plea came amid a torrent of tension between local elected officials and state legislators regarding the action in Frankfort. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer traveled to Frankfort last month to lobby againsta bill that would give more control to the Louisville Metro Council and has mounted a social media campaign against the measures.

State lawmakers have also proposed bills that would reworkthe Jefferson County Public School district's decades-old school assignment plan and bring fundamental changesto the way Louisville manages solid waste.

"Micromanagement of Louisville does nothing for the Commonwealth," said council president David Yates, from District 25.

Asking for Help

Bill Hollander, chair of the council's majority Democratic caucus, called on state lawmakers to instead focus on helping improve Louisville.

He commended recent council efforts to funnel money into road repair, but said "so much more" could be done "if we got our fair share of the gasoline tax."

"City tax payers continued to be shortchanged," he said.

Cheri Bryant Hamilton, the Democratic caucus vice-chair, made a plea for state lawmakers to support efforts to eradicate neighborhoods of vacant properties.

"They're more than just eyesores, they're breeding grounds for crime," she said.

Mary Woolridge, who represents District 3, called on state lawmakers to support efforts to advance felony expungement. She said current proposals would reduce the costs for residents seeking criminal record expungement and such measures are "common sense legislation."

"Felony expungement is the best way to rehabilitate our citizens to productive taxpayers," she said.

Pat Mulvihill, a District 10 representative, took his turn at the microphone to call on state legislators to take action to reduce overcrowding in Louisville's jail.

The jail is well beyond capacity and the facility's director, Mark Bolton, told council members in a pair of public meetings last month the issue leads to financial burdens and taxes jail staff.

"Frankfort, we need your help," Mulvihill said Thursday. "Please help us fix our jail system."

Vicki Aubrey Welch, from District 13, made an impassioned call for state lawmakers to take action on a set of bills aimed at combating opioid addiction.

Heroin use and overdoses stemming from heroin use are surging in Louisville this year. More than 50 people have died from suspected overdoses and police and other first responders are being forced to use the overdose fighting antidote naloxone at a much higher rate compared with previous years, Welch said.

"We need state help and state reform," she said.

Marianne Butler, from District 15 and longtime chair of the council's budget committee, said each of the aforementioned recommendations would help cut costs in Louisville.

"We send quite of bit to Frankfort and we get back a fraction of what we send," she said.

Yates, the council president, said the Democratic caucus members are looking for "a new beginning" not "a fight."

"We want to make sure we are working on the prosperity of our constituents," he said.

But despite their plea for partnership and collaboration, the council Democrats were not joined by any of their Republican colleagues.

Asked if any Republicans were invited to the press event Thursday, the Democrats remained silent for a moment.

Then, Brent Ackerson, from District 26, quipped "this is the Democratic caucus."

And Hollander, the caucus chair, added that "this was a caucus event."

"These were caucus priorities," he said.

Robin Engel, chair of the Republican caucus, did not return a request for comment.

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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