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Louisville mayor ‘optimistic’ state legislature will deliver gun reform, infrastructure funding

Frankfort, Kentucky State Capitol Building exterior view
Henryk Sadura
/
Thinkstock
Kentucky lawmakers will return to Frankfort for the 2024 session of the General Assembly on January 2, 2024.

As the Kentucky General Assembly session approaches, city leaders in Louisville are pushing lawmakers to take up gun reform, infrastructure funding and affordable housing incentives.

State legislators will be back in Frankfort on Jan. 2 to kick off the 2024 session. They’ll field requests for policy changes and funding from lobbyists, Louisville Metro’s among them. Democratic Mayor Craig Greenberg released a legislative agenda earlier in October, outlining potential solutions to the issues dogging Kentucky’s largest city: gun violence, access to affordable housing and aging public infrastructure.

After a meeting with some of Louisville’s state legislators in November, Greenberg told LPM News he was “very optimistic” about the upcoming session.

“There are a lot of areas of agreement,” he said. “I think we all agree we want to approve public safety. Everyone seems supportive of more affordable housing, strengthening economic development, and investing in our city.”

City leaders are asking the General Assembly to take up a number of reforms that would make the state more tenant-friendly, including expungement of eviction proceedings that get dismissed as well as allowing local governments to pass more stringent protections for renters. They also want state lawmakers to let voters weigh in on a constitutional amendment to allow local governments to levy new kinds of taxes.

The legislature will set the state budget for the next two years. Here’s some of Louisville’s wish list:

  • A $26 million investment in projects along the Ohio River
  • $30 million to convert downtown office space to residential 
  • $12 million to support an entertainment and residential district around Lynn Family Stadium
  • $50 million for Louisville’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund
  • $42 million Metro Parks & Recreation projects, including renovations to the Iroquois Amphitheatre, Algonquin Aquatics Center and the Belvedere

Louisville officials also want the state to create a new affordable housing tax credit, which would spur development of new apartments and houses for first-time home buyers.

Some gun reform proposals 'just aren’t gonna happen'

Topping the list of Louisville’s legislative agenda are measures Greenberg argues will improve public safety, including gun reform.

City officials are asking the General Assembly for the power to require background checks for all gun sales, waiting periods for first-time gun buyers and to create red flag laws. They also want local governments to have the power to limit concealed carry for people under the age of 25.

It seems more likely, however, that Kentucky lawmakers will do the opposite. In 2019, Kentucky stopped requiring permits to conceal carry. And just last year, the General Assembly passed a “Second Amendment sanctuary” bill, banning police from cooperating with any federal enforcement of a gun or ammunition ban.

Greenberg had a closed-door meeting in early November with Louisville’s state representatives and senators, including Republicans. While participants told LPM News that it was a productive discussion, there were also clear disagreements.

In an interview after the meeting, state Rep. Kevin Bratcher said the General Assembly would never give Louisville local control over guns.

“That’s just not going to happen in the future,” he said. “Everybody in Louisville could agree upon that, but you’ve got to deal with the whole state on that one.”

Republican state Rep. Jason Nemes, who also attended the meeting, agreed.

“I do not believe the state legislature will pass a bill to allow any jurisdiction to be able to pass special legislation related to firearms,” Nemes said in an email.

Bratcher and Nemes are both part of a coalition of Republican representatives who are proposing a large package of public safety-related reforms, which they’re calling the Safer Kentucky Act. The 18-point plan includes harsher penalties for violent crime, restrictions on nonprofit bail funds and a ban on homeless encampments in public spaces.

Bratcher said Greenberg agreed with some of that.

“He liked that we’re going to allow folks to bid on guns that were used in a murder, and they can destroy them if they choose,” he said.

Greenberg is against the current practice of Kentucky State Police auctioning off seized guns to licensed sellers. The Safer Kentucky Act would allow people without a license to participate in the auctions. Those private citizens would have a new option: destroying the guns they purchase.

The Safer Kentucky Act and Louisville’s legislative priorities also overlap on allowing police to use wiretapping as a means of targeting gang members and others who engage in violent crime. Some state Republicans, however, have expressed concern about this.

Greenberg said he supports a new wiretapping law that would give Louisville another way to target gang violence. Kentucky is one of only four states in the country without a wiretapping law, he said.

“These days, people are communicating with their phones in a number of different ways,” Greenberg said. “So, I believe this will be another tool for LMPD to use to help prevent violent crime from happening in the first place.”

While officials aren’t on the same page about everything, Bratcher and Nemes said they’ve had a good relationship with Greenberg since he took office in January.

“Greenberg seems to be a mayor that sees a problem and goes about fixing that problem, and that is a refreshing change,” Nemes said.

There’s hope, on both sides, that Louisville and the General Assembly can at least be on friendlier terms than in the past.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.