Stand With Rep. Derrick Graham: We Gain Nothing If We Do Nothing
By Representative Derrick Graham
When it comes to government, doing nothing often has a bigger impact than doing something. There are very real and lasting consequences when we don’t promote equality, when we don’t push for justice, and when we don’t lift people up when they are down.
Many may think they are untouched when society doesn’t address a persistent and pressing need, but that’s not true. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., noted, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
The good news as this year’s legislative session crosses the halfway mark – and this year’s Black History Month enters its final full week – is that there are several bills that can shift Kentucky out of neutral and move us forward. My hope is that we act on all of them.
It’s time, for example, to finally put on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would grant voting rights to most felons after they complete all aspects of their sentence. Kentucky and Iowa are now the only two states still enforcing an effective lifetime ban in these cases, and here in the commonwealth, that means the voice of more than 300,000 citizens is silent on Election Day.
No group of Kentuckians in this category is more affected than African-Americans. Their disenfranchisement rate is three-and-a-half times the national average, making it the highest among the 50 states.
A poll of more than 600 Kentuckians late last year indicates this amendment would pass easily if placed on the ballot in 2020, with two-thirds saying they support the concept.
Another needed bill this year would make it easier for more Class D felons – the lowest of the four felony levels – to expunge their record, which in turn would help more of them move ahead with their lives.
In a related matter, the time has come for true bail reform. Many citizens with limited incomes are spending weeks, if not months, behind bars awaiting trial while others who can afford bail are able to stay at home. Those who are innocent are paying a high price for this disparity, often losing their jobs and precious time with their families.
The good news with all of these issues is that their solutions are drawing meaningful bipartisan support. All it would take to make them a reality is just a few days of the General Assembly’s time. In less than a week, we can make a positive difference that will last a lifetime for tens of thousands of Kentuckians.
These aren’t the only bills I believe should finally move forward. I also believe it is time to raise the minimum wage, which hasn’t seen an increase for a decade; and we need to broaden access to preschool and kindergarten so that all of Kentucky’s young children can benefit. Structured learning at an early age is especially critical.
Frederick Douglass was right when he said that “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” To continue that theme, it is easier to build good schools and universities than it is to repair lost opportunities in the classroom. It is easier to build access to quality healthcare than it is to repair sickness and disease. And it is easier to build lasting equality than it is to repair lives that are diminished because they were never even given a chance.
I realize the gains we should make may not all happen this year, but we can lay a stronger foundation for all of them now.
As the House Democratic Caucus Chair, and the first African-American from our party to serve in a leadership role in the House, I feel an even stronger sense of urgency to make these changes a reality. We gain nothing if we do nothing, and for me and many others, that is simply not an option.