The sobering reality of a ‘new normal’ in church security

Thom Rainer

By Thom Rainer

We recently experienced a new tipping point for church security.

A tipping point is the critical juncture in evolving developments that leads to a new and, often, irreversible state. We call that new state “the new normal.”

In church security we have witnessed two major tipping points. Though child sex abuse in churches was not new, it reached a new level of awareness and response when Pope John Paul II called an emergency meeting with the U. S. cardinals in 2002. We knew then the issue was serious and pervasive.

We reached a second major tipping point in November 2017 with the church shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Among the 26 people killed were nine members of one family. Church leaders and members across the nation began to realize that if it can happen in Sutherland Springs, it can happen anywhere.

I recently conducted a social media survey to ask church leaders and members to share what their churches were doing for church security. I then went to for more in-depth responses. Here are some realities of the new normal as articulated by these respondents:

  • Church security measures have shifted dramatically. We learned that while church security measures are not new, there has been a noticeable change since the November 2017 shootings. Many churches instituted church security measures for the first time. Even more implemented additional security measures after the 2017 shootings.
  • There is a resistance to church security measures by a vocal minority. This perspective holds that the measures are an overreaction, or that it goes counter to the biblical truth of trust in God. There was a similar reaction in the early 2000s when churches started requiring background checks for those who worked with children. The latter protest is almost non-existent today. The resistance to implementing church security for shooters will likely dissipate as well.
  • One of the most common responses by churches is partnerships with local law enforcement. Many churches have hired off-duty police officers to be vigilant and visible when the church is gathered. Others have sought the law enforcement community to educate and train their members about this issue.
  • Many churches are using their members to assist in church security.Churches are commonly offering security training sessions to their members. Others are using members to patrol the grounds or to become volunteer security guards. I admittedly was surprised at the number of congregations who have many members carrying concealed weapons.
  • Churches are using technology to enhance their security. For example, even some of the smaller churches are using advanced video security systems, especially now that the technology has become more affordable.
  • More guests are asking questions about church security. When the sex abuse scandals become pervasively known, many church guests would not visit a church unless this issue was clearly addressed. The same is now true for the security toward church shootings. If churches do not provide clear and visible protection for those gathered, many guests will not come.
  • There is a general sadness among churchgoers that we have come to this point. Church members as a whole would like their churches to be wide open and welcoming. They don’t like locked doors, security cameras, and gun-carrying members. But they realize this reality is here to stay. For that reason, they are sadly resigned and accepting.

It is a new normal.

We may not like it, but it is here to stay.

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.


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House adoption workgroup recommends a registry to protect father’s rights

By Tom Troth

Throughout the summer and fall, the House of Representatives workgroup on adoptions in the Kentucky General Assembly has been meeting in order to provide recommendations for the streamlining of the adoption and foster care process in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The first recommendation of the workgroup was that a Putative Father Registry be established under Kentucky law. Similar legislation has been filed in previous legislative sessions, but the bills have never passed the General Assembly. This legislation attempts to bring finality to the rights of fathers in termination of parental rights/adoption procedures, thereby reducing unnecessary delays or interruptions in the adoption procedures while also protecting the rights of “putative fathers.”

While the rights of a mother of a child born out of wedlock are apparent, easily established and dealt with, the rights of a father are not so easily discerned, especially when the father of the child often is not known. In the case of an unknown father, the right of the mother could be terminated, but the father’s rights may never have been properly adjudicated, leaving open the possibility of a father coming back even years later to claim paternity and custody of a child that has been raised for years in the loving home of adoptive parents. In this scenario, the parental rights of the biological father may be deemed paramount unless the father is determined unfit by the court.

One way to protect a father’s rights with regard to the child, while also preventing unnecessary delays or interruptions in a child’s adoptions proceedings, is through the creation of a Putative Father Registry. According to testimony at the House working group on adoption/foster care, there are between 20 and 25 states that have enacted a Putative Father Registry, including many states surrounding Kentucky, such as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee.

The registry requires that if a man has sexual relations with a woman who is not his wife, thus creating the potential for the birth of a child, the “putative father” has a responsibility to register that fact in a confidential fashion with the state. If he registers with the state within the timeframe specified in the statute, which could be set, for example, as within 30 days after the birth of the child, then he has the right to have notice of any procedure to terminate the rights of the parent as a prelude to adoption. If registered, he will receive notice and can follow the necessary legal channels to object or agree to the termination.

However, if the putative father’s name, is not placed on the Putative Father Registry, then he has no right to object to the termination, and subsequent adoption of the child. This would provide greater stability for biological mother of the child and for the adoptive parents, knowing that the biological father, who perhaps has shown no interest in the child cannot, years later, claim paternity and the right to parent the child. Registration as a putative father would be completely confidential and will have the effect of protecting the biological father’s rights as well.

A putative father may place himself on the registry. The following additional individuals may also place the name of a putative father on the registry; the mother, child, a party in a pending adoption, an attorney of record in a pending adoption, a child-placing agency or a court overseeing an adoption.

Additional recommendations by House Workgroup on adoption:

On December 19, 2017, the House of Representatives Workgroup on Adoptions in the Kentucky General Assembly submitted their final recommendations for administrative and legislative changes to the adoption/foster care process. The goal of these recommendations is to streamline the process, thereby making Kentucky a more adoption and foster family friendly state. Several recommendations came out of the monthly hearings of the work group.

  • The first recommendation which was discussed in a previous post was the creation of a PUTATIVE FATHER REGISTRY, which will help protect the rights of fathers, mothers, as well as adoptive parents in an adoption/foster care proceeding.
  • A STANDARDIZED BUT UPDATED FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION HOME STUDY SHOULD BE USED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY BASED SERVICES (DCBS) AS WELL AS INDEPENDENT FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION AGENCIES. There was a great deal of testimony before the House Work Group concerning the duplication of effort and delay caused by utilizing multiple state and private home studies.

The creation of a standardized home study would help eliminate duplication and should remain effective for an appropriate length of time. The study could be updated if needed, but not require multiple home studies be completed prior to final adoption.

  • EDUCATION OF BIRTHMOTHERS ABOUT ADOPTION OPTIONS IS CRITICAL. Healthcare providers, and particularly OB-GYNs are in a unique position to provide mothers with options for their baby’s care, including providing important adoption information. It is believed that widespread adoption education would assist in preventing newborns from being unnecessarily placed in state custody while they await placement.
  • COMPREHENSIVE TIMELINES FOR TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS SHOULD BE LEGISLATIVELY ESTABLISHED. One of the areas of concern raised by foster and adoptive parents in Work Group hearings was the seemingly unreasonable delays that occur in the legal and administrative process that ultimately results in Termination of Parent Rights (TPR) as a precursor to adoption.

It was recommended by the Work Group that a legislative timeline be enacted in consultation with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Administrative Office of the Courts in order to prevent delays in the proceedings that result in a child’s permanent placement. Failure to establish hard and fast end dates leave children in limbo when it comes to placement.

A comprehensive TPR time line will improve efficiency of the system and allow children and families to set realistic expectations about their family’s future.

  • CONTRACTS BETWEEN THE STATE (DCBS) AND PRIVATE FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION AGENCIES SHOULD BE BASED ON PERFORMANCE. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services should establish a clear and consistent review methodology for assessing performance of its contracted foster care and adoption agencies. DCBS must ensure that each child and foster and adoptive family are treated with the same level of care as their peers.
  • THE ROLE OF THE OMBUDSMAN MUST BE STRENGTHENED. Foster parents and stakeholders should be enabled to file grievances against DCBS employees or contractors and should be authorized to report other known issues regarding their care or the system as a whole, so complaints can be resolved and the system as a whole improved.

By empowering the ombudsman in this way, foster parents can avoid the fear of retaliation from reporting deficiencies in state worker performance or other issues. Likewise, a record of trends regarding complaints may be kept. The ombudsman can act upon grievances and also respond to requests it receives from the legislative and executive branches in order to assure the efficient management of these type of issues.

  • ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS SHOULD BE IMPLEMENTED. The latest technology should be provided to DCBS social workers to cut down substantially or even eliminate the backlog of paperwork that must be completed in developing home studies and other documents relating to the Foster Care/Adoption process.

The use of tablets or laptops with ability to sync with the DCBS case file database would enable social workers to update data as needed between court delays or home visits. Use of technology could assist social workers in responding to foster parents, children, and birth parents without unreasonable delays.

  • DCBS WORKERS SHOULD BE MORE EFFECTIVELY RECRUITED AND RETAINED. Social workers serve under emotionally trying and sometimes dangerous circumstances. Social workers should be afforded suitable opportunities to receive benefits such as respite leave and hazardous duty pay. The possibility of providing social worker students with tuition credits or scholarships should also be explored.

Career advancement should be encouraged as well as succession planning and mentoring utilized where appropriate.

  • THE RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE PROGRAM REVIEW AND INVESTIGATION COMMITTEE’S “KENTUCKY FOSTER CARE SYSTEM” REPORT SHOULD BE MADE A PART OF THE WORK GROUPS RECOMMENDATIONS. The recommendations of the Program Review and Investigations Committee are not included in this summary, but should be reviewed separately.
  • THE ROLE OF THE CITIZEN’S FOSTER CARE REVIEW BOARD SHOULD BE EXPANDED. In 1982, a statutory Citizen Foster Care Review Board was created for each child in state custody by court order. Volunteers to this Board are appointed by the Chief Family Court or District Court Judge to perform reviews around the state. In FY 2016, 2,222 meetings were held, and 20,869 reviews on 11,287 children in out-of-home care were conducted.

The Citizen Foster Care Review Board provides invaluable assistance by advising judges on the cases of children on their dockets. It is believed that the General Assembly would benefit from the Board’s regular reporting of findings and from testimony on trends in the state’s out-of-home youth population.

  • A STATUTORY COMMITTEE THAT FOCUSES ON CHILD WELFARE ISSUES SHOULD BE CREATED. Because of the considerable issues facing Kentucky’s youth, it is believed the General Assembly should consider the creation of a permanent statutory committees to deal exclusively with child welfare issues.

The committee would meet regularly throughout the year, and provide the General Assembly with information on issues facing the Commonwealth’s young people. This statutory committee would also provide a platform for stakeholders such as foster and adoptive parents, Cabinet for Health and Family Services officials, health care providers and advocacy groups to express issues and concerns regarding real situations in the field.

  • SERVICE OF PROCESS AND FILING REQUIREMENTS CONCERNING DNA CASES SHOULD EASED. Currently, an emergency custody order may only be issued in the county where a child is found. Amending KRS 610.010 to allow these emergency orders to also be issued in the county where the child lives would better address the needs of our increasingly mobile society and prevent instances of parents removing a child from their home county to avoid emergency removal of a child.

Current service of process rules such as the service of summons statutes, KRS 610.040, 620.070, FCRPP Rule 188, as well as warning order attorney rules, create delays in legal processes intended to immediately aid a child in harm’s way. Service of process rules should be made as efficient as practicable to ensure the immediate safety of a child at risk.

  • FAMILY PRESERVATION AND REUNIFICATION PROGRAMS AND INTENSIVE IN-HOME SERVICES SHOULD BE EXPANDED. The programs mentioned in this paragraph are designed to assist families in developing better parenting skills, obtaining substance abuse treatment, and attaining other necessary resources to maintain the wellness of the family unit and avoid out-of-home care where possible. When appropriate, these programs benefit Kentucky families, are often in the best interest of the child and more effectively use state resources than out-of-home care.
  • CHILDCARE NEEDS IN KENTUCKY’S WORKFORCE SHOULD BE ADDRESSED. In order to work every day, many Kentuckians are forced to find care outside the home for children not yet enrolled in K-12 schools. Additionally, research shows that children who are introduced to appropriate care and education from birth to five years of age are more school-ready and able to find higher wage employment later in life than those whose first introduction is at the kindergarten level. Early education and child care are also linked to better health outcomes, lower crime rates, and more effective public schools.

To assure that Kentuckians can afford to work, and grow our Commonwealth’s economy, while promoting early education prior to kindergarten, the adoption work group recommended that the state more fully develop and align its child care and early education resources and requirements.

If there are any questions about the recommendations of the House of Representatives Adoption Work Group, or if additional information is needed, please contact Tom Troth, Legislative Agent, Kentucky Baptist Convention, at 502-330-5024, or e-mail at [email protected].


Posted in Adoption, Family, Foster Care, Government | Leave a comment

Combating the evils of human trafficking

By Tom Troth

At the 2016 annual meeting, the Kentucky Baptist Convention enacted a resolution on the evils of human trafficking. That resolution said in part that “we call on Kentucky Baptist to support public policies at the local … [and] … state … level which combat human trafficking.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, I had the privilege of being invited to stand alongside Gov. Matt Bevin, Reps. Addia Wuchner and Melinda Prunty, Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rick Sanders, and Marissa Castellanos, of Catholic Charities of Louisville, to participate in the ceremonial signing of House Bill 524, a bill that seeks to do the very thing contemplated by the resolution adopted at the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s 2016 annual meeting.

At the signing, Rep. Wuchner pointed out that “trafficking of adults and young children” is occurring in the Commonwealth. Ms. Castellanos, from Catholic Charities pointed out that this exploitation is happening to our most vulnerable citizens.

Commissioner Sanders pointed out that House Bill 524 will give additional tools to law enforcement in combating this terrible evil.

In summary, House Bill 524 requires individuals who are found guilty of human trafficking of minors to register on the sex offender, or crimes against minor children registry. The legislation further requires the posting of the human trafficking hotline number (Red Flag: Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-3737-888) at public schools and at public rest areas. Finally, the legislation adds additional definitions of what constitutes a serious physical injury of a minor.

House Bill 524 is an important step in the battle against human trafficking in this state.

Please take a moment and watch this video.



Also, I want to again express my appreciation to Dr. Paul Chitwood and all Kentucky Baptists for the privilege of being able to serve as your legislative agent for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

Just to give you a quick update on my activities. My primary focus between sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly has been to visit legislators in their home districts and, when invited, to speak at churches about my work for Kentucky Baptists. So far, I spoken at churches in western, central, and southcentral Kentucky, and have met with several legislators in those areas, paying particular attention to visiting the newly-elected legislators. These dedicated citizen legislators are true public servants in every sense of the word. They are working hard to represent their constituents in Frankfort and do so often at great sacrifice to their families and to their careers.

When you meet legislators in their own home district you get to see first-hand the difficulties they have trying to juggle their busy schedules. I have the greatest respect for the institution of the General Assembly and for those who serve.

I ask you lift up your elected representatives in prayer. Pray that God will give them discernment to do what is best for the people of Kentucky. Pray that God will give them endurance to complete the tasks they have been assigned. They have a difficult but important job to do. Their actions determine the direction for our state.

In addition to speaking at churches, and visiting legislators, whenever possible, I have attended various meetings of Interim Joint Committees of the Kentucky General Assembly when those committees have matters on their agenda that are of interest to Kentucky Baptists. In particular, I have attended the meetings of the House of Representatives Working Group on Adoption, which is chaired by Rep. David Meade from Stanford, Ky., and Rep. Joni Jenkins from Louisville. This Task Force has held six meetings during the time between legislative sessions and will be presenting legislation in the next session of the General Assembly to streamline the adoption/foster care system in Kentucky.

As many of you know first-hand, there are often delays and obstacles to providing foster children and potential adoptive children the permanent home in Kentucky that every child deserves. Streamlining the adoptive/foster care process is a priority for Gov. Bevin, Reps. Meade and Jenkins, and for Kentucky Baptists. We will be fully engaged on this important legislative initiative.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to serve Kentucky Baptists. If you have any questions at all about what is happening with legislative issues in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, please feel free to give me a call. Also, I would be honored to come speak to your church about the work I am doing as a legislative agent for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. My phone number is 502-330-5024, and my email address is [email protected].

I look forward to hearing from you.


Posted in Adoption, Foster Care | Leave a comment

HB 309: What pastors need to know about new law & reporting abuse


On March 30, the last night of the legislative session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 309 relating to the reporting of incidents of domestic and dating violence and abuse. The legislation includes some provisions that apply to an “ordained minister or denominational equivalent…or any organization or agency employing any of these professionals” as defined in the legislation. House Bill 309 was one of the legislative priorities of the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

In a recent newsletter, the KCADV broadly outlined the statutory changes that resulted from this legislation. The organization stated that HB 309 replaced “spouse abuse mandatory reporting (already applicable to ministers under KRS 209A.030(2)) with a requirement that a broadly defined group of professionals must provide potential victims of domestic or dating violence and abuse” with information and educational materials that may be helpful.

“Professional” as defined in the legislation includes the following occupations:

physician, osteopathic physician, coroner, medical examiner, medical resident, medical intern, chiropractor, nurse, dentist, optometrist, emergency medical technician, paramedic, licensed mental health professional, therapist, cabinet employee, child-care personnel, teacher, school personnel, ordained minister or the denominational equivalent, victim advocate, or any organization or agency employing any of these professionals.

This legislation eliminates certain mandatory reporting provisions that exist under current statutory law, however, it requires a professional to provide certain information to a potential victim which is now available at

Here are a few of the provisions of House Bill 309 that relate to professionals (including ministers) and some related concerns about the legislation.

  • If requested by a victim of domestic or dating violence or abuse, a professional, which includes a minister, must report the incident to a law enforcement officer. The report must be discussed with the potential victim prior to reporting. HB 309, Section 5. (This provision may actually reduce the number of incidents of domestic or dating violence or abuse that are reported. It certainly could put a professional in the awkward position of not reporting violations of which he is aware because he was told not to report and then being confronted with failing to report and having to prove that he was advised not to report.)
  • If a professional, which includes a minister, believes that the death of a potential victim was due to dating or domestic violence or abuse, the minister must report his or her belief to a law enforcement officer. HB 309, Section 6.
  • If a professional, which includes a minister, reasonably believes that a parishioner with which he has a professional interaction has experienced domestic or dating violence or abuse, the minister must provide educational materials about domestic or dating violence or abuse and where the victim can obtain information and help. HB 309, Section 8. (A brochure with the necessary information to be provided is now available at, see 209a referral information. The requirement to provide this information throughout the state will be challenging given that there are so many churches of various denominations, including small rural churches and bi-vocational pastors who may not have access to the internet.)

Professionals are shielded from civil and criminal liability for making reports or providing the necessary information required by House Bill 309. Conversely, the professional can be held criminally responsible for knowing or wanton failure to comply with the law.

House Bill 309 is effective as of Thursday, June 29, 2017. In addition to information and educational material provided on their website, the KCADV has three webinars scheduled on June 30, July 7, and July 14 to outline the requirements of the new law.

If you have any questions about this legislation, please feel free to contact me at (502) 330-5024, or e-mail me at [email protected]


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Open Hearts/Open Homes – Foster Care & Adoption Initiative


On March 10, 2017, Governor Bevin and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services held “A Summit to Save Our Children” in Frankfort. The summit was Governor’s official expression of his ongoing commitment to streamline the Foster Care/Adoption process in the Commonwealth. This initiative should be particularly exciting for Kentucky Baptists. At that summit Governor Bevin issued a call to mobilize a network of non-profits, faith-based organizations, and loving families to “take a stand to ensure all children in the Commonwealth are safe, cared for and loved.”

Our Executive Director, Dr. Paul Chitwood, gave the invocation for this important event, and he and his wife Michelle’s experience in providing Foster Care was a featured video at the Summit.

As a part of this initiative, the Health and Family Services Cabinet has commissioned an in-depth study of the Adoption/Foster Care process by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Recommendations from the Foundation to make the entire system more efficient by the removal of barriers to foster care and adoption will be forthcoming. This study will result in a legislative package to be considered at the 2018 legislative session.

As Kentucky Baptist’s representative at the Capital, it is my intent to be as helpful as possible to the Health and Family Services Cabinet as the legislative package is developed for introduction at the 2018 session. The streamlining of the adoption process will also be studied by a working group made up of legislators in the Kentucky House of Representatives. I intend to speak out to members of the House and Senate to express our support for these efforts to make the Foster Care/Adoption process more flexible and efficient.


It was pointed out at the Summit, that there are children in Out of Home Care that don’t always have safe and appropriate places to sleep at night. One of the suggestions made by the Cabinet was that churches and other non-profits purchase portable cribs (Pack N. Plays) and provide them to the Cabinet to be issued to families as needed. That is certainly something that almost any size church could do immediately.

Providing a portable crib to families that need them is just one small way we can be involved, but there’s so much more that needs to be done. According to the data provided at the Summit, as of February 6, 2017, there were 7,917 children in Out Of Home Care. While it was pointed out that there is an ongoing need for additional Foster Care families in all categories, the Cabinet outlined specific areas of need, including:

  • Homes accepting sibling groups
  • Homes accepting children ages 19 and up
  • Homes with African American Parents
  • Homes with Hispanic Parents
  • Homes accepting medically complex children

Other areas of need associated with the provision of Foster Care include:

  • Recruitment of Foster families
  • Respite services
  • Training supports (sites, childcare, flexile locations and hours)
  • Visitation services
  • Transportation
  • Provision of goods
  • Supports to those aging out of care
  • Mentoring to biological families
  • Fatherhood engagement
  • Supports to kinship, foster and adoptive parents

James 1:27 tells us: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans … in their distress.” How can we not be involved in fulfilling this Biblical mandate?

Please make our involvement in the Governor’s Foster Care/Adoption initiative and the House of Representatives’ study group a matter of prayer. Pray that the goal to “ensure all children in the Commonwealth are safe, cared for and loved” would be achieved.

If you have any questions about the Open Hearts/Open Homes initiative or the House of Representatives study group, feel free to contact me at [email protected], or call me on my cell phone at (502) 330-5024. I would be honored to speak with you.

Posted in Family, Foster Care | Leave a comment

Federal Court Hearing on Kentucky’s Ultrasound Bill

On March 23, 2017, I had the privilege of attending the court hearing on House Bill, 2, commonly known as the ultrasound bill. House Bill 2 gives a pregnant mother the opportunity to view an ultrasound and hear the heartbeat of her unborn child prior to having an abortion. The hope is that if a mother sees the image and hears the heartbeat, she will determine to let her child live. The hearing began at 9:30 in the morning in the Federal District Court in Louisville, Kentucky and lasted until approximately 3:30 that afternoon.

As I drove to Louisville, and entered the Federal Courthouse, I was struck by the import of what would take place on that day. The fact that innocent lives literally hang in the balance was not lost upon me. I was required to go through two different security checkpoints. One as I entered the building and then one as I entered the area where the hearing would be held.

As I entered the courtroom, where Judge David Hale, would preside over the hearing that day, my mind went back to the times that I appeared in Federal Court. My practice was mainly in the State Courts, but I will say that there is something particularly stately and yet imposing about the federal courts.

The arguments began shortly after 9:30, with Steve Pitt, representing the Governor, and the Health and Family Services Cabinet, Travis Mayo from the Attorney General’s Office representing the Board of Medical Licensure, and three attorneys from the ACLU’s offices in New York City representing, EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

At the risk of greatly oversimplifying things, the issue to be decided in this case really boils down to this. Do the requirements of House Bill 2, compel the EMW Surgical Center and their doctors to violate their First Amendment, Free Speech Rights under the Constitution by requiring them to provide the ultrasound image and fetal heartbeat information to the expectant mother, or do these requirements further what the United States Supreme Court has called, a government’s “legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life?”

The Federal appeals courts have come to differing conclusions based on similar legislation in other states.

I would ask you to make the decision a matter of prayer. Ask that God’s will would be done in this case. Pray that unborn lives would be protected. Pray that the Lord would give Judge Hale wisdom as he rules on this important issue.

If you have any questions about this case, I would be honored to speak with you about it. You can call me at (502) 330-5024, or e-mail me at [email protected]. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your legislative agent.

Posted in Government, Life | Leave a comment

Update from the 2017 Kentucky legislative session

By Tom Troth, Legislative Agent
Kentucky Baptist Convention

The members of the General Assembly have left Frankfort and returned to their home districts for the 10-day veto recess. They will return at noon on March 29, 2017, for two more days to deal with any potential Gubernatorial vetoes and to pass additional legislation. There were 793 House and Senate Bills filed and 366 House and Senate Resolutions. Of that number 143 bills and resolutions have been enacted and sent to the Governor for his signature or possible veto.

During this lull in the action, I wanted provide an update and give my assessment of the 2017 legislative session. It is my view that Kentucky Baptists have much to thank God for as this legislative session comes to a close. Allow me to share a few of the highlights from the session.


The very first week of the session, the legislature passed two critically important pro-life pieces of legislation. House Bill 2, requires an ultrasound be performed, with the images and an audio of the fetal heartbeat made available for the mother to view prior to an abortion being performed. Of course, it is hoped that when a mother sees the ultrasound images and hears the heartbeat, she will choose to allow her unborn child to live. Senate Bill 5, was also enacted, which bans abortions after 20 weeks. Both these protections for the unborn were passed and sent to the Governor in an unprecedented Saturday session during that first week.

Later in the session the General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 8 which would “prohibit state and local funds from being used, granted, paid or distributed to an entity, organization or individual that provides abortion services” or referrals for abortion. This legislation is commonly known as the Defund Planned Parenthood bill.

With regard to protection for the unborn, Kentucky Baptists have been working and praying for years that significant legislation like House Bill 2, Senate Bill 5 and Senate Bill 8 would be enacted into law. It is gratifying to see pro-life protections become a priority for the Kentucky General Assembly. If you have not already done so, please thank your legislators for their courageous stand to protect the life of the unborn.


Religious liberty protections were also front and center in the 2017 legislative session. The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 17, which allows students in public schools and college campuses to express their religious and political viewpoints free from discrimination and censorship to the same extent as non-religious views may be expressed. The rights enumerated in Senate Bill 17 are already largely already protected by current court rulings but the bill memorializes these protections in Kentucky statute.


Foster care and Adoption were also a priority for the legislature this year. Two pieces of legislation promoted by the Health and Family Services Cabinet will have the effect of easing the burden on foster children and foster families.

House Bill 180 will allow for the “fictive kin” placement of a child in foster care. Fictive Kin is defined as “an individual who is not related by birth, adoption, or marriage to a child, but who has an emotionally significant relationship with the child.” A church member who has a significant relationship with a child could be eligible for a “fictive kin” placement. This could potentially expand the reach of the church in caring for children who are in need.

House Bill 192, will end the prohibition of children in the custody of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services from obtaining a driver’s license. This legislation will provide additional flexibility to the foster parents in the transportation of a foster child to and from extracurricular activities.

Perhaps the most significant and far reaching impact on adoption and foster care in the Commonwealth is the Open Hearts/Open Homes initiative, which is a part of the Governor’s pledge to improve the Adoption and Foster Care system by mobilizing a network of non-profits, faith-based organizations and loving families. The Health and Family Services Cabinet has commissioned an in-depth study of the Adoption/Foster Care process by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Recommendations from the foundation to make the entire system more efficient by the removal of barriers to foster care and adoption will be forthcoming. This study will result in a legislative package to be considered by the 2018 Kentucky General Assembly. Kentucky Baptists will be fully engaged in this important initiative by the Governor.


The General Assembly sought to give some financial relief to churches with bi-vocational pastors by enacting House Bill 306. The intention of this legislation is to exempt small churches who don’t pay salaries to their pastors from having to pay workers compensation insurance. It also is intended exempt the church from having to pay workers compensation for independent contractors, like individuals who cut the grass for the church.


At the 2016 annual meeting, the Kentucky Baptist Convention enacted a resolution on the evil of human trafficking. That resolution said in part that “we call on Kentucky Baptist to support public policies at the local … [and] …state … level which combat human trafficking.” House Bill 524 is a bill that seeks to combat the evils of human trafficking. If finally passed, the legislation would require individuals who are found guilty of human trafficking of minors to register on the sex offender, or crimes against minor children registry. The legislation would also require the posting of the human trafficking hotline number at public schools and at public rest areas. Finally, the legislation adds additional definitions of what constitutes a serious physical injury of a minor. This legislation has not yet been enacted but is poised for passage on March 29, or 30 when the General Assembly returns from the veto recess.


House Bill 128, would require the Kentucky Board of Education to promulgate administrative regulations to allow for an elective social studies course on the Bible. The course would not be religious instruction but would allow for the study of the literary aspects of the scriptures. This bill is poised for passage during the final two veto days on March 29 or March 30.


The General Assembly is poised to finally pass Senate Bill 120 relating to criminal justice reform when they return after the veto recess. The legislation does not reduce crimes or the sentences imposed for those crimes, but primarily seeks to provide work opportunities for inmates while they are incarcerated. The legislation also attempts to reduce recidivism by providing training and reducing barriers that limit work opportunities upon an inmate’s release. The hope is that by providing these work opportunities, once an inmate has paid his debt to society he will be better equipped to become a productive citizen again.


Senate Bill 204, filed by Senator Morgan McGarvey, proposed to amend the Kentucky Constitution to allow for expanded casino gambling in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. A similar bill was filed in the House by Representative Jerry Miller, House Bill 373. In both these bills 100% of the proceeds from expanded gambling would go to resolve the pension crisis. Neither of these bills were considered during the 2017 legislative session. In fact no potential amendments to the Kentucky Constitution were considered.


Several bills were filed regarding pay day lending during the 2017 session. Senate Bill 168 and House Bill 320 would cap pay day loans at an interest rate of 36%. Senate Bill 169, and House Bill 321 would enhance the penalties for companies violating the pay day lending laws.

House Bill 447, would have provided an additional predatory lending option to pay day lenders which is often referred to as a Flex Loan. Persons using these flex loans would be allowed borrow up to $1,000 on an open ended note, much like a credit card. The interest rate on these flex loans as set forth in the legislation is 24%. However, a customary daily .7% fee is also charged on the loan which results in interest rates of up to 280%.

None of these pay day lending bills were heard during the legislative session.


Senate Bill 57 would have provided for the cultivation, regulation and sale of marijuana for medical uses only. Senate Bill 76 would have provided for the cultivation, regulation and sale of recreational marijuana. Senate Bill 243 would have allowed for the use of medical marijuana for palliative or end of life care. None of these bills were considered by the General Assembly during the 2017 session.


House Bill 58, often referred to as the Tim Tebow bill, would authorize participation in public school interscholastic extracurricular activities by home school students. Though the legislation passed the House of Representatives, it currently appears that it may not have sufficient momentum to become law during the current legislative session.

House Bill 162, and Senate Bill 102, would authorize the creation of a scholarship tax credit program for low to middle income students or students with disabilities in non-public schools, grades K-12. This legislation would directly benefit students at institutions such as Oneida Baptist Institute. Though not enacted during the current legislative session, this tax credit program appears to be poised for favorable consideration in the upcoming special legislative session when the General Assembly will consider tax reform.

House Bill 522 appears poised for passage when the Kentucky General Assembly returns on March 29. This legislation as amended in the Senate would create a requirement that high school students pass a financial literacy course prior to graduation from a public high school.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the bills that I tracked during the legislative session, but is an attempt to provide you with the highlights. As I said at the beginning of this update, I believe Kentucky Baptists have much to be thankful for as the 2017 Kentucky General Assembly comes to a close. It has been an honor to serve as your legislative agent. If you have any questions or concerns, or would like further information on these or any other legislative issues that have been or may be considered in the future, I would be honored to speak to you. You can contact me at 502 330-5024 or send me an e-mail at [email protected].

Posted in Family, Foster Care, Gambling, Government, Life, Payday Lending, Religious Liberty | Leave a comment

18th birthdays should be time of celebration, not trepidation


It’s good to see Gov. Matt Bevin focusing attention on Kentucky’s foster care system.

In his latest initiative, Fostering Success, Bevin is trying to ease the transition from foster care to self-sufficiency for young adults aging out of the system. Bevin is promising to provide them short-term government positions so that they can develop needed job skills.

Read the rest of this editorial at Kentucky Today.

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Memorial Day Reflections

WohlanderBy Mark Wohlander

In an old fashioned way, Memorial Day is a special day for me.  It reminds me of the sacrifices of thousands of ordinary men and women who have served since the birth of our nation in order to protect our freedom.

In an old fashioned way, Memorial Day reminds me of my deep sense of pride for a nation which truly is “…the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

In an old fashioned way, Memorial Day reminds me of what it means to live in the “land of the free” which is a gift to all of us from the“brave” who have fought for and defended our freedom.

Read the rest of Mark Wohlander’s Memorial Day commentary at Kentucky Today.

Mark Wohlander, a former federal prosecutor in Kentucky, is a lawyer in Lexington.

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Fewer than 4,500 tobacco farmers remain in Kentucky in wake of buyouts

Shelby County farmer John Rothenburger stands in a greenhouse filled with young tobacco plants. Rothenburger is among fewer than 4,500 remaining tobacco farmers in Kentucky. (Kentucky Today/Kristen Lowry)

Shelby County farmer John Rothenburger stands in a greenhouse filled with young tobacco plants. Rothenburger is among fewer than 4,500 remaining tobacco farmers in Kentucky. (Kentucky Today/Kristen Lowry)

John Rothenburger is one of fewer than 4,500 tobacco growers left in Kentucky — a state where the crop used to be king. Growing health concerns about tobacco use, as well as the increasing number of foreign growers, have devastated the industry in the state.

A Shelby County tobacco farmer since 1974, Rothenburger started when he was 16 years old, helping his father for pocket money. Now, he grows 26 acres of the labor-intensive crop on the same piece of land that his father farmed before him.

He’s held on through the buyout and the price drops.

Tobacco was once a major industry in the state, but as Americans became aware of the health risks, demand began to plummet.

In 2004, Congress passed the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act, which included the Tobacco Transition Payment Program, commonly known as the “Tobacco Buyout.” The buyout provided cash payouts to tobacco growers as compensation for the loss of quotas.

Read the rest of this story at Kentucky Today.

Posted in Economy, Employment, Tobacco | Leave a comment

Hal Heiner sends refreshing message by refusing state salary




When our Frankfort reporter, Kristen Lowry, set out to write an article about Kentucky Education Secretary Hal Heiner, one of the more intriguing facts she uncovered was that he doesn’t accept a government salary.

Mind you, it could have been a handsome salary. His predecessors in recent years were all paid well over $100,000 a year.

Read the rest of this editorial at Kentucky Today.

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House Republicans get it right by striking provision to draft women


In the midst of the political chaos on Capitol Hill, there are still some good decisions being made.

Such was the case Tuesday when House Republicans removed a provision from the annual defense policy bill that would have forced America’s daughters to register for the military draft.

GOP lawmakers wisely struck the provision before it ever reached the floor for consideration.

Continue reading this editorial on the Kentucky Today website.

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Gov. Bevin sets the bar high as defender of Kentucky values


Gov. Matt Bevin has once again proven himself faithful in his defense of Kentucky values.

He’s come out as a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s overreach into public school bathrooms.

The administration’s threat to withhold federal funding from schools that do not fall in line was clearly a bullying tactic.

Click here to continue reading this editorial at Kentucky Today.

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Kentucky legislators pass laws to protect the unborn & newborns

Babies were among the big winners in the legislative session that wrapped up last week.

Kentucky lawmakers passed two bills intended to protect both the unborn and newborns.

In what many evangelicals consider a major victory, the House and Senate came together on legislation that will require women seeking abortions to have face-to-face meetings or real-time video consultations with their physicians or other medical personnel.

You can read the full story on Kentucky Today.

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New marriage license forms protect county clerks’ religious liberty

TrothBy Tom Troth

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has signed Senate Bill 216 into law, which establishes requirements for the issuing of marriage licenses by county clerks. The legislation was enacted to resolve the issue created when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was jailed for refusing to issue licenses for same-sex marriages because of her sincerely held religious belief in the traditional view of marriage.

In a statement issued at the time of his signature, Gov. Bevin said, “Everyone benefits from this common-sense legislation. … There is no additional cost or work required by our county clerks. They are now able to fully follow the law without being forced to compromise their religious liberty.”

Senate Bill 216 deletes the requirement that a county clerk sign and issue the license, thereby preserving a clerk’s sincerely held religious belief. The legislation also provides for the issuance of a single marriage license form, where the parties can be listed as bride, groom or spouse.

You can read the full story about the legislation at Kentucky Today.

Tom Troth serves as a legislative agent for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a pastor in Frankfort, Ky.

Posted in Homosexuality, Marriage, Religious Liberty | Leave a comment

Food pantry faces heavy burden in wake of downturn in coal industry

Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry, helps prepare food boxes for the hundred of families served by the ministry. (Kristen Lowry\Kentucky Today)

Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry, helps prepare food boxes for the hundred of families served by the ministry. (Kristen Lowry\Kentucky Today)

“We have a lot of people who will tell us, ‘There’s no food in my pantry; I have nothing to eat,’” said Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry. “If not for what we do here, we’d have a lot more people going hungry in Letcher County.”

The Whitesburg initiative supplies food boxes to more than 500 families in a 6-mile radius each month.

The food pantry is operated out of a small white house on the corner of the grounds of Whitesburg First Baptist Church. The building is provided by the church, which also pays the water and electric bills each month.

The food pantry, which serves an average of more than 1,000 people a month, was established with money from a legal settlement after the Scotia mine disaster of 1976, one of the worst in Kentucky history.

Holbrook says that most of the people who use the food bank typically are the unemployed or the working poor trying to make ends meet in minimum-wage jobs.

And their ranks keep growing throughout central Appalachia where the coal industry is going through a bust cycle. Employment in the coal industry has declined from more than 13,000 five years ago to under 6,000 today.

Read the final installment of Kristen Lowry’s three-part series on coal and the economy in eastern Kentucky at Kentucky Today.

Posted in Unemployment | Leave a comment

Laid-off miner faces four-hour commute to new factory job

Justin Johnson stands with his wife Christy outside an idled coal mine in eastern Kentucky. He now commutes four hours to a factory job in northern Kentucky and sees his family on weekends. (Kristen Lowry/Kentucky Today)

Justin Johnson stands with his wife Christy outside an idled coal mine in eastern Kentucky. He now commutes four hours to a factory job in northern Kentucky and sees his family on weekends. (Kristen Lowry/Kentucky Today)

For eight years, Justin Johnson worked as an electrician in the coal mines, and life was good. He made a good living, got married. He and his wife, Christy, bought a house and had two children.

But in 2011, the industry began a steady decline. Mines began closing. Companies began layoffs.

Johnson held on until September of 2013, when he was laid off from his job. He was offered a transfer to Illinois, but he didn’t want to leave Kentucky.

After 18 months of unemployment, he got a job at the Dow Corning Corp. plant in Carrollton, working as an electrician.

Johnson isn’t alone in leaving Kentucky’s mountain region to find work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, thousands have left eastern Kentucky to look for work elsewhere. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 7,000 people have migrated out.

Read the rest of Kristen Lowry’s second part of a three-part series on coal and the eastern Kentucky economy at Kentucky Today.

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Half of working-age residents in Appalachia can’t find jobs

State Rep. John Short, right, chats with a customer in his gun shop in Hindman, Ky., where the faltering coal industry has meant widespread job losses. (Kristen Lowry\Kentucky Today)

State Rep. John Short, right, chats with a customer in his gun shop in Hindman, Ky., where the faltering coal industry has meant widespread job losses. (Kristen Lowry\Kentucky Today)

More than half of working age residents in Kentucky’s coalfield counties have been without jobs in recent years, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics that measure actual unemployment.

John Short, a state representative from Hindman, said he sees no signs that the economy is improving in the heart of Kentucky’s coal-mining region.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Workforce Development found in a review of census data that fewer than 40 percent of Knott County residents ages 16 and up had jobs between 2009 and 2013, revealing that the employment drought is affecting not only adults but also their teenage children who, in other regions, have little trouble finding part-time positions.

You can read the rest of Kristen Lowry’s first story in a three-part series on the eastern Kentucky economy and the fate of coal on Kentucky Today.

Posted in Unemployment | Leave a comment

Casino gambling bill once again fails to move forward in the Kentucky General Assembly

By Tom Troth

TrothWith only four legislative days remaining in the 2016 session, as Kentucky Baptists, I believe we can once again give thanks to God that a bill to expand casino gambling in the Commonwealth of Kentucky has failed to gain traction.

Senate Bill 144, co-sponsored by Morgan McGarvey and Julie Raque-Adams would have submitted a proposed constitutional amendment to the voters that, if passed, would have allowed the General Assembly to pass legislation to allow for casino gambling in this state.

Under the legislation, 90 percent of the state’s revenue from casinos or other forms of expanded gaming for the first 10 years would be allocated to fund shortfalls in the Kentucky Retirement Systems and the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. The remaining 10 percent would be allocated toward purses for the horse racing industry.

Thankfully this legislation was never even called for a hearing in the Senate.

We need to thank the members of the Kentucky General Assembly, both Democrat and Republican for their resolve not to allow casino gambling to invade the state of Kentucky. Click the photo below to read more about the casino gambling proposal at Kentucky Today.

Tom Troth serves as a legislative agent for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a pastor in Frankfort, Ky.

KYT screen


Posted in Gambling | Leave a comment

Bill to add churches to infant safe haven list passes Kentucky Senate

1458164638_64f6An amendment to House Bill 148 would add churches to the list of safe havens where unwanted babies can be dropped off without parents being criminally charged. As long as the baby is not injured, the law ensures that the parent or person acting for the child will not be liable.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville (pictured above), proposed the amendment.

“Churches are a safe place for babies to go,” Raque Adams said, “and they are prevalent throughout our communities.”

Read the full story HERE at

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