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Council Passes Pandemic And Policing Measures In Last 2020 Meeting

Metro Council Hearing by J. Tyler Franklin, Louisville Public Medi
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

Metro Council members swiftly passed a number of measures in their last meeting of 2020. Some of them touched on two major issues the body addressed this year: the COVID-19 pandemic and police reform.

The council passed with near-unanimous approval an ordinance allocating $10 million to fund grants to help some Louisville residents impacted by COVID-19 pay their utility bills — water, sewer, gas and electric. Two members, president David James (D-6) and Pat Mulvihill (D-10) abstained from the vote due to family members whose jobs are connected to Louisville Gas & Electric.

The allocation will come from $26 million carried forward from the last fiscal year, which Louisville chief financial officer Daniel Frockt said earlier this week was made possible by federal funding for coronavirus-related expenses via the CARES Act. Members of the budget committee are debating how to allocate some of the remaining funds.

Budget committee chair Bill Hollander (D-9) said the grants will not be available until mid-January. He said $6 million would go to LG&E bills, while $4 million would apply to Metropolitan Sewer District and Louisville Water Company bills.

“Frankly, we know it’s not enough money to satisfy all the bills,” he said. “It will be in January and there will be a lot of public engagement as to how you can apply for those funds.”

Council members also approved measures related to police reforms, capping a year of many such legislative actions intended to apply more accountability to the Louisville Metro Police Department.

They passed, unanimously and without discussion, a resolution urging Metro Government to “bargain in good faith for more comprehensive and definitive critical incident drug and alcohol testing provisions in the new collective bargaining agreement.” Last month, the council approved a short-term contract with the River City Fraternal Order of Police that is set to expire at the end of June.

Sponsor Barbara Sexton Smith, who is retiring, said in June that drug and alcohol testing after incidents in which officers use deadly force would provide more evidence to investigators afterward. She made those comments after filing an ordinance that would have mandated such testing, which died in committee in September. The measure that passed Thursday is a resolution, which is not binding and instead represents the desire of the council.

Council members also passed a second resolution related to police reform, this time asking the Kentucky General Assembly to change state law to allow Louisville officials more freedom to push for what they see as accountability measures. State legislators would need to do that to allow the city to negotiate some terms with the FOP next year, which they promised to do as part of a civil settlement with the family of police shooting victim Breonna Taylor.

Her death sparked protests and a wave of actions intended to update police protocols in Louisville this year.

Markus Winkler (D-17) said the council is asking state lawmakers to consider evaluating certain changes, such as lifting a ban on public officials from speaking about officers’ alleged misconduct and issuing subpoena power to the recently-created Office of Inspector General.

The resolution passed with 22 votes in favor. The four council members who voted against were Kevin Kramer (R-11), Marilyn Parker (R-18), Stuart Benson (R-20) and Robin Engel (R-22).

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.