FRANKFORT — The final days of the 2023 legislative session are now visible on the horizon, and lawmakers have spent the past week pushing a raft of bills closer to the finish line, including one measure on gaming machines that appeared to stall in the House last week.
Bills on firearms, juvenile justice, religious freedom, delta-8 THC and driverless vehicles all received action over the packed four days. Most of the major bills this year have now passed out of at least one chamber, and some are even closer to final passage.
Wednesday brought one of the most memorable moments of the session so far. That's when lawmakers in the House mobilized a sizable majority to revive House Bill 594 for a successful vote on the chamber floor.
The legislation would clarify that certain gaming machines, often known as "gray machines" or "skill games," are illegal in Kentucky. The devices are called gray machines because they fall into a gray area in the state's gambling laws, and they have grown more prevalent at gas stations and convenience stores over the past two years.
If HB 594 becomes law, anyone who manages or owns the machines would be subject to a $25,000 fine per device.
The legislation was tabled last week after lawmakers debated where gambling should occur in Kentucky — and who should oversee it. However, the apparent accord on Wednesday resulted in a 64-32 vote in a favor of sending the bill to the Senate.
Gambling has remained a banner issue in the General Assembly for more than a decade, and at least one other measure, a bill on sports wagering, is advancing in the House this year
House Bill 551 would legalize, regulate and tax sports wagering in Kentucky — all under the authority of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission — and only licensed tracks would be permitted to obtain a sports wagering license. The bill cleared the House Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations on Wednesday.
In the Senate, lawmakers passed a key education bill on student discipline. Senate Bill 202 would give local school boards more flexibility to place students into alternative learning programs if the student is considered a safety threat or is likely to cause a substantial disruption. The bill advanced off the chamber floor Wednesday.
Another bill grabbing attention this week was House Bill 547. It would codify religious freedoms for public school teachers, faculty and staff, including the right to engage in religious expression and prayer during breaks and to display religious items in personal spaces. The bill passed off the House floor on Thursday.
The Senate wrapped up the week Friday with an hour-long debate on Senate Bill 115, which would prohibit sexually explicit performances on publically owned property or in locations where the performances could be viewed by minors. That would include performances "involving male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest," according to the bill.
SB 115 passed off the Senate floor and now heads to the House.
Dozens of other bills remained on the move this week, and lawmakers only have four days left on the calendar before the chambers gavel out for a veto recess. Here's a look at some of the key measures under discussion:
Firearms on College Campuses: House Bill 542 would prevent colleges and universities from banning people who are 21 and older from carrying concealed firearms on campus. The House Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection approved the legislation on Tuesday.
Freestanding Birthing Centers: Senate Bill 67 seeks to reduce some of the legal and regulatory hurdles for opening freestanding birthing centers in Kentucky. The Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee passed the bill Tuesday.
Student Vaccines: House Bill 101 would prevent any person, entity, corporation or government agency from requiring or coercing a child to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The legislation advanced off the House floor on Tuesday.
Animal Abuse: House Bill 103 would increase the penalty for torturing a dog or cat from a class A misdemeanor on the first offense to a class D felony. It would also expand the definition of torture for this statute. The House passed the bill on Tuesday.
Vehicular Homicide: House Bill 262 would add the crime of vehicular homicide to state statutes. A person would be guilty of vehicular homicide, a class B felony, if they cause a death while operating a motor vehicle impaired. The bill passed off the House floor Tuesday.
Juvenile Justice Audit: Senate Bill 158 calls on the state auditor to contract with an independent firm that would conduct a performance review this year of state juvenile detention facilities. The Senate passed the measure Tuesday.
Juvenile Justice Reform: Senate Bill 162 seeks a comprehensive overhaul of Kentucky's troubled juvenile justice system, including a return to a regional model of detention. It would place all eight of Kentucky's juvenile detention centers under one office with a lead supervisor who reports directly the commissioner. Among many other changes, the bill would increase staffing and training, enhance mental health interventions, and provide better segregation of violent offenders. SB 162 passed off the Senate floor Tuesday.
Biomarker Testing: House Bill 180 would require health benefit plans to cover biomarker testing for patients who have been diagnosed with cancer and other diseases. The Senate Committee on Health Services passed the bill Wednesday.
ESG Investing: House Bill 236 would require state public pension funds to base investment decisions on financial risks and returns and not on environmental, social and governance factors, commonly known as ESG. The measure advanced out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.
Sex Offenders: Senate Bill 80 would prohibit registered sex offenders from loitering or operating a mobile business within 1,000 feet of schools, daycares, and public playgrounds or swimming pools. It cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Motor Vehicle Racing: Senate Bill 96 would set up a framework for local governments to grant permits for motor vehicle racing events as long as conditions are met on insurance, security and emergency services. It would also allow local governments to temporarily close roadways and waive traffic regulations for the events. The Senate Transportation Committee passed the bill on Wednesday.
Tracking Devices: Senate Bill 199 would outlaw the installation of tracking devices on motor vehicles without the consent of the vehicle owner or lessee. The Senate passed the bill Wednesday.
Postsecondary Education Study: Senate Joint Resolution 98 would direct the state Council on Postsecondary Education to study the placement and services of public colleges and universities in Kentucky. The Senate passed the resolution Wednesday.
Teacher Shortages: House Bill 319 seeks to ease teacher shortages. It would clear the way for Kentucky to participate in the Interstate Teachers Mobility Compact, if it is created. It would also allow someone with at least a bachelor's degree and at least four years of experience in their field to teach that subject under the supervision of a certified teacher. The bill cleared the House floor on Wednesday.
Drug Test Strips: House Bill 353 would remove fentanyl test strips from state prohibitions on drug paraphernalia. The House passed the legislation Wednesday.
Health Care Workers: House Bill 200 aims to address a shortage in health care workers by creating the Kentucky Health Care Workforce Investment Fund. It would use both public and private money to increase scholarship opportunities in the field. The House passed the bill Wednesday.
Postpartum Depression: Senate Bill 135 calls on the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services to create a panel focused on perinatal mental health disorders and provide related information and assessment tools for health care providers. The House Committee on Families and Children advanced the bill Thursday.
Federal Firearm Bans: House Bill 153 would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies and other public officials from enforcing federal firearm bans or regulations enacted after Jan. 1, 2021. The Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection passed the measure Thursday.
Marijuana Intoxication: Senate Bill 228 would set an impaired driving limit for marijuana. It would specify that people are too impaired to drive if they have 5 nanograms or more of THC per milliliter in their blood. The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
School Staffing: House Bill 32 would allow school districts to hire classified personnel, such as cafeteria workers and bus drivers, without a high school diploma or GED. The school system must provide those employees an opportunity obtain their GED or earn relevant licenses or credentials at no cost. The Senate Education Committee passed the measure Thursday.
Teacher Misconduct: House Bill 288 seeks to protect students from teachers accused of misconduct, give due process rights to accused teachers, and lay out a framework for school personnel to conduct misconduct investigations. It also seeks to improve transparency when misconduct occurs. The bill passed out of Senate Education Committee on Thursday.
Physician Wellness: Senate Bill 12 would allow physicians to participate in wellness and career fatigue programs without disclosing their participation to employers. Supporters say it will help physicians deal with job-related burnout without fear of retaliation. The bill advanced out of the House Committee on Health Services on Thursday.
Autonomous Vehicles: House Bill 135 would provide a regulatory framework for the use of fully autonomous vehicles on public highways. The House passed the bill Thursday.
Delta-8 THC: House Bill 544 would direct the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services to establish regulations related to delta-8 THC by Aug. 1. That would include prohibiting the sale of the product to anyone under 21. HB 544 won passage on the House floor Thursday.
Child Murder: House Bill 249 would make the intentional killing of a child under 12 an aggravating circumstance. That would ensure that a person who is guilty of killing a child would either be subject to life in prison without parole or the death penalty. The House passed the legislation Friday.
KEES for Proprietary Schools: Senate Bill 54 would allow students to use a Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship to attend a qualified propriety school program that is focused on a high-demand work sector. The measure passed off the House floor Friday.
DUI Restitution: Senate Bill 268 would allow courts to order restitution for children whose parents are killed or permanently disabled by an intoxicated driver. The Senate advanced the measure Friday.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Frankfort on Monday for day 25 of the session and then break on March 16 for a 10-day veto recess.
Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to follow a bill's progression through the chambers.
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly's toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.
FRANKFORT — A bill to strengthen the penalties for individuals who murder children advanced off the House floor on Friday.
House Bill 249, or Kimber's Law, would make the intentional killing of a child under the age of 12 an aggravating circumstance, said the bill's primary sponsor Rep. Nick Wilson, R-Williamsburg. The bill is named after 3-year-old Kentuckian Kimber Collins, who was beaten to death in 2019.
"I wouldn't stand here today presenting this bill if there wasn't a reason to do so, and that reason why is Kimber Collins," Wilson said.
With the way the law is currently written, the man who killed Kimber was not eligible to be sentenced to life without parole in Kentucky, Wilson said. Instead, the man received a 45-year sentence and will be eligible for parole after 20 years.
"I think that's a disservice to the most vulnerable victims in our Commonwealth," Wilson added.
Under Kentucky law, the penalty for a class A felony is 20 to 50 years or life with the possibility of parole after 20 years, unless a person guilty of a class A felony has an aggravating circumstance, Wilson said.
There are currently eight crimes in Kentucky that constitute as an aggravating circumstance, including having a prior murder conviction and committing a murder during a robbery, rape or arson. A person who is convicted of a class A felony with an aggravating circumstance could face life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
When it comes to the death penalty, Wilson said he found only three people have been executed in Kentucky since 1960 with the most recent case being in 2008.
"I want everyone to keep in mind that this (bill) is not necessarily a vote of approval or disapproval of the death penalty," Wilson said. "It is more nuanced than that."
Rep. Lindsey Burke, D-Lexington, said a few members of the House Judiciary Committee had an issue with the death penalty being an option in the bill and suggested changes. Wilson said he did not change the language in the bill because other lawmakers said they prefer the original language.
In explaining her "yes" vote, Rep. Stephanie Dietz, R-Edgewood, said she was one of the House Judiciary Committee members who had concerns.
"I would have been in favor of the other language, but today I'm a 'yes' so that we can protect our children," Dietz said, adding she is also against the death penalty.
Rep. Patrick Flannery, R-Olive Hill, spoke on the House floor in favor of HB 249. He said while he struggles with the topic of the death penalty, he believes the bill is not about that.
"I think it's really important to amplify that this bill is really not about the death penalty," Flannery said. "It is a parole issue."
The House approved HB 249 by an 85-6 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.
FRANKFORT —Delta-8 THC products in Kentucky may soon be placed under new regulations.
The Kentucky House of Representatives unanimously approved House Bill 544 on Thursday after the legislation advanced out of the House Health Services Committee earlier in the day.
Rep. Rebecca Raymer, R-Morgantown, who is one of the bill's primary co-sponsors, said the bill would require regulations for delta-8 THC, a hemp-derived cannabinoid product.
"This is going to make it illegal to purchase (delta-8 THC) under the age of 21," Raymer said during the committee meeting. "It's going to have to be a behind the counter product."
Additionally, delta-8 THC products would have new labeling and testing requirements under HB 544. Raymer said the bill would direct the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services to establish these new regulations by Aug. 1.
Katie Moyer, president of the Kentucky Hemp Association, testified alongside Raymer in favor of the bill during the committee meeting. She described the situation in the hemp industry with delta-8 THC products as the "wild west."
"(Delta-8 THC) is coming from who knows where. We're surely not getting it from Kentucky producers who are growing it here and who we can go visit their store, their facility and make sure it's clean and make sure they know who they're getting their materials from," Moyer said.
House Speaker Pro-Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, is the other primary co-sponsor of HB 544. On the House floor, Meade said the legislation will protect children.
"I've had numerous folks in our school systems and my local sheriff asking for us to do something on this issue," Meade said. "We have this product getting in the hands of children. We have some that have overdosed on this product, and they want the ability to go in and issue penalties for those who are selling delta-8 THC to underage children."
Also on the House floor, Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, said HB 544 is a "good piece of legislation," that will hopefully be a "great model for full cannabis legalization" in the future.
Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, also spoke in favor of HB 544. He is another lawmaker who heard from constituents in education and law enforcement on the issue.
"I feel this is an excellent move," Hale said.
The House approved HB 544 by a 97-0 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.
FRANKFORT —The Senate Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Cabinet on Thursday advanced a bill that would prohibit Kentucky law enforcement personnel from enforcing federal firearms bans.
The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Josh Bray, R-Mount Vernon, said the House Bill 153 passed out of the House earlier this year.
"The concept behind it's pretty simple," Bray said. "It says going forward no state tax dollars or state manpower will be allocated towards the enforcement of federal firearms ban regulations after Jan. 1, 2021."
The measure passed out of committee on a 7-2 vote, but not before some debate, including two opponents who spoke during a public comment period.
Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, compared gun violence to the opioid crisis and asked why Kentucky wouldn't take a similar approach to mitigating the problem by reducing the prevalence of guns.
"Why, in this case, when we have a tremendous, extraordinarily costly epidemic of gun violence in this state are you advocating for more guns rather than less? That seems antithetical to what we are doing with the opioid crisis," she said.
Bray said he doesn't equate the opioid crisis with gun violence, arguing that the opioid crisis stems from addiction while gun violence results from a lack of respect for human life.
He also pointed to the example of the pistol brace ban to convey his point of view.
"The federal government has …reexamined an existing interpretation to make this firearm accessory illegal," he said. "Without a single legislative vote cast, they've just determined that something that was legal for years is now illegal — just through a (regulation) interpretation."
Bray added that he's concerned about people with disabilities and those who want to use firearms for protection of their families.
The bill now heads to the Senate.
FRANKFORT —The Senate unanimously approved a measure Wednesday that takes aim at improving student discipline in Kentucky's public schools.
Senate Bill 202, sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, would give local school boards more flexibility to place students into alternative learning programs if the student is considered a safety threat or is likely to cause a substantial disruption, among other measures.
"This bill is a very simple bill. It allows for the expulsion to be extended. It allows for more alternative options. In a nutshell, it gives more options to superintendents and school districts when it comes to expulsions," West said.
He said the measure will add more discretion for the superintendent to do alternative programming, including virtual learning.
The bill also would require, 30 days before a student's expulsion ends, the local school board to review the circumstances and determine if the expulsion should be extend for a period not to exceed 12 months. The board will consider if ending the expulsion will substantially disrupt the education process or constitute a threat to students or school staff.
West said all grades of students have serious problems with discipline.
"This issue, we always talk about is the urban-rural divide, and this is not an urban-rural divide problem. This is not a JCPS problem. This is a problem in every district in the commonwealth," West said.
During the interim period, West spoke with stakeholders from many groups, and there was the recurring theme of discipline problems, he said.
"This issue is so important that it affects and bleeds over into other areas that we're having problems with. For instance, the teacher shortage issue. You're seeing that older teachers, if they're eligible for retirement, are leaving early because they can't deal with these issues in the classroom," West said.
West told legislators they won't be able to address every issue this session, but the bill will begin to address discipline problems.
Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said SB 202 and several other bills that deal with discipline are some of the most important ones legislators will work on this session.
"We talked a lot yesterday about our juvenile justice system and the state of disarray that it was in. Even though this is not directly connected, I think it is connected in the fact that our schools are hurting," he said.
Schickel said there's a crisis with recruiting teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, and every type of position within schools. "If we don't get our hands around this, our children and our families are at risk."
Senate Minority Floor Leader Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, cautioned that the bill requires a certain amount of discretion in the classroom, and that's based upon someone's judgment. Neal said he supports multiple tools to deal with certain circumstances.
"It gives an option, that instead of necessarily sending a young person out of the school setting, that there are options that are available to keep them in the learning process," he said.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said it's important to be transparent about discipline issues in schools, pointing to schools in Fayette County as an example.
"What we've seen historically is that these kinds of discretions in judgment tend to disproportionally affect Black students more than white students. That when you look at the students that are being removed from the classroom or are being suspended or being expelled, they are disproportionally Black as opposed to white," he said, adding that the situation has improved over the last few years.
"We don't want these decisions again to have a disproportional impact on Black students because they are there to learn too," he said.
Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, said teachers are in the schools to teach, not to parent children. He said he doesn't think teachers necessarily treat Black students unfairly.
"To make an assumption that our teachers are going to discipline someone just because of their race is offensive to me, and it should be offensive to everyone in the Commonwealth of Kentucky," he said.
Sen. Matthew Deneen, R-Elizabethtown, also said serious discipline problems exist with students of all ages.
"After 29 years in education, I've also worked in alternative schools. I've dealt with discipline in the classroom, and I've seen my colleagues deal with discipline in the classroom. What I hear quite often is we focus so much on the disrupter that we lose sight of the rest of the children in that classroom," he said.
The out-of-control behavior and the lack of discipline have a ripple effect, he said, adding he supports the measure.
"It provides our administrators with options. It provides superintendents with options. And more importantly, it provides safety and security for our children. That is the most important thing," he said.
FRANKFORT —— Legislation to ban gray machines, or skill games, in Kentucky is on the move.
The Kentucky House of Representatives approved House Bill 594 on Wednesday by a 64-32 vote. The bill was first brought to the floor for a vote on March 3, but the House voted to table the measure at that time. A motion to bring the legislation back to the House floor for a vote was successful on Wednesday.
Last week, the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, said the purpose of the bill is to clarify what types of gaming are legal under Kentucky law.
"Kentucky has always done an excellent job of regulating gaming, and we want to continue that effort now by outlawing illegal gaming machines and explicitly saying what is not gambling and what devices and machines are gambling machines and which ones are not," Timoney said.
HB 594 carves out exceptions for charitable gaming, e-sports competitions and skill-based contests. The bill defines "coin-operated amusement machines" like games played at retail establishments like Chuck-E-Cheese. Those along with carnival games would not be banned under this bill, Timoney said. Pari-mutuel wagering, historical horse racing and e-sports would remain legal as well.
HB 594 would also create a civil penalty for those who violate the statute. Anyone who conducts, finances, manages, supervises, directs or owns a gambling device would be subject to a $25,000 fine per device payable to the local county government.
Timoney said he collaborated with many stakeholders when drafting the bill, including the Kentucky Retail Federation, the State Fair Board and the University of Kentucky.
Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, has said he has been divided on the bill even though he is against gambling. He voted "yes" on HB 594 on Wednesday "because the gray machines are taking the money of my people back in the 84th District," he said.
HB 594 will now go before the Senate for consideration.
FRANKFORT — The Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a measure that would help boost motor vehicle racing in Kentucky.
Senate Bill 96 is sponsored by Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard. He said there's tremendous opportunity to allow drivers to race in the commonwealth, and the legislation would establish some protocols on permitting, insurance, safety and other related issues.
He testified alongside Erik Hubbard, director of Backroads of Appalachia, a motor sports organization based in Harlan County.
"Hosting events like this all across Eastern Kentucky as (Hubbard) has done, it's not just as easy as putting it together," Smith said. "You want to make sure you have insurance and all the stuff in place for the local communities and the cities and the counties that participate, and he wants to make sure it's done right."
SB 96 would set up a framework for local governments to grant permits for racing events as long as conditions are met on insurance, security and emergency services. It would also allow local governments to temporarily close roadways, reroute traffic and waive traffic regulations for the events.
Only a nationally or internationally recognized racing organization would qualify to host an event under the bill, and organizers would be required to provide written details to state officials 60 days in advance.
Hubbard said he is from Eastern Kentucky and loves the area. He wants to use racing to bring tourism dollars to the area and all of Kentucky in a safe and fun way.
"Last year, we had an economic impact (study) done from the University of Pikeville that we brought in over $11.9 million," he testified.
Another key reason for the legislation is staying competitive with West Virginia, Hubbard said. His group uses professional organizers to host events across the United States. These groups can offer multi-million dollar insurance policies for drivers, he said.
Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, who is a physician, expressed concern about drivers who might not have insurance to pay for injury treatments.
"I worked in a small, rural hospital in Southern Indiana for many, many years, and we had something going on up the street where people would get hurt, and they would show up and they had no health insurance, nothing to cover the costs of these injuries. Is that a requirement?" she said.
Hubbard explained how drivers can obtain a $5 million insurance policy that is secondary to medical insurance.
He added that his organization partnered with those in addiction recovery to host a rally car race, giving 63 people an opportunity to "be exposed to a different culture and get them high on cars instead of drugs."
Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, who is chairman of the committee, asked about the length of the races.
Hubbard said they focus on 3-4 miles total, and they do time trials instead of traditional races. He added that the United States has a problem with illegal races taking over interstates
"We do not endorse that, we do not approve of that," he said. "That's why we take the initiative now to even have car groups out of Lexington and Louisville come to Clay City. Let's do a car show, and if you want to call a buddy out, you pay $35 and you can do it here legally and safely and not endanger families on the roads."
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
FRANKFORT — This could be the year the Kentucky General Assembly legalizes sports betting in the Commonwealth.
The House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee unanimously approved House Bill 551 on Wednesday. Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, and Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, are primary co-sponsors of the bill, which would legalize, regulate and tax sports wagering in Kentucky.
Meredith said even though sports wagering is illegal in the state, Kentuckians are placing about $1 billion in illegal sports wagers annually through online sources. Many Kentuckians are also crossing the state line to participate in sports betting in states where it is legal.
"I'm here to tell you about taking an industry that exists in darkness and in the shadows and legitimizing it, legalizing it and regulating it to protect the consumers of Kentucky," Meredith said.
Meredith said the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would oversee and regulate the sports betting industry under HB 551. Only licensed tracks would be permitted to obtain a sports wagering license through the commission.
In addition, HB 551 prohibits several types of people from participating in sports wagering, such as anyone under the age of 18. A person who is participating in a sporting event either as a player, coach, official or owner of a team would also be prohibited from placing a wager on a game or event they're associated with. Violators would be guilty of a class A misdemeanor. A person who tampers with an outcome of a sporting event would be guilty of a class C felony.
The state would make an estimated $23 million annually off sports wagering, according to Meredith and Gentry, through a 9.75% tax on revenue at tracks and a 14.25% tax on revenue from online wagers.
"(HB 551) will tax, regulate and make (sports wagering) legal and significantly reduce illegal participation in this type of activity," Gentry said. "And it will also help us pay down our pension liabilities because that's where the funds will be going to."
Meredith followed up Gentry's comments by confirming the funds will first cover the administration costs. The leftover funds will be deposited into the permanent pension fund, he said.
Committee Vice-chair Rep. Tom Smith, R-Corbin, asked Meredith and Gentry about the licensing fees outlined in the bill.
Meredith said a licensed track would pay an upfront $500,000 sports wagering licensing fee and an annual $50,000 renewal fee.
During discussion of the bill, two people signed up to speak against HB 551. David Walls, executive director for The Family Foundation, said the foundation is against the expansion of predatory gambling in Kentucky.
"This type of predatory gambling is designed to prey on human weakness with the government colluding with gambling interests to exploit our fellow Kentuckians," Walls said, adding the industry is also harmful to children and those with a gambling addiction.
While voting, Rep. Emily Callaway, R-Louisville, said she was voting "yes" on HB 551 because her constituents support sports wagering.
HB 551 will now go before the full House for consideration.
FRANKFORT — Two criminal justice measures — Senate Bill 162 and Senate Bill 158 — advanced off the Senate floor Tuesday, and supporters say both bills would be catalysts for a comprehensive overhaul of Kentucky's troubled juvenile justice system.
Senate Bill 162 is based on the efforts of a legislative work group that began meeting in January to review ongoing issues in the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The group has toured facilities throughout the state and met with numerous officials from all levels of the government, including former employees.
The bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, said the review revealed a myriad of problems within the department — severe understaffing, a culture of self-preservation in management, fear of retaliation on the frontlines, a lack of faith in leadership, a breakdown in communication, and a lack of services for youth with severe mental illness.
"Senate Bill 162 will not solve all these issues within DJJ," Carroll said. "But it will address the most pressing issues, and it will lay a foundation for additional changes to occur in the near future."
DJJ has faced greater scrutiny in response to rioting, fires and the rape of a juvenile in custody, and SB 162, which passed the Senate with unanimous support, is seeking a battery of reforms.
The legislation calls on the department to return to a regional model of detention that keeps youths closer to home and better segregates males from females and violent offenders from the non-violent population.
It would also create a compliance division within the department and place all eight of Kentucky's juvenile detention centers under one office with a lead supervisor who reports directly the commissioner.
Other provisions would improve data tracking, increase training and require DJJ to maintain treatment options for children with severe emotional disturbances or mental illness. The bill would also allocate millions of dollars to enhance salaries and improve staffing ratios inside facilities.
Elsewhere in the bill, lawmakers are seeking to strengthen oversight of the state's Juvenile Justice Advisory Council.
"DJJ has become what they were created to stop, no questions about that," Carroll said. "All of the things that have been occurring are without a question, a recipe for disaster. And that disaster has manifested itself repeatedly over the past couple of years."
Senate Minority Floor Leader Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, said a lack of staffing has been one of the biggest reasons for problems at the juvenile detention centers, but added that there's no magic bullet.
"There is a degree of crisis associated with this," he said. "And I think that this bill offers what I would consider to be a prime opportunity. And what do I mean by that? Not just so that we can address this here, but it also shines a beacon on what's happening nationally as well."
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, encouraged lawmakers to find a tailor-made approach that best suits the needs of both urban and rural children, helping them get back on track and avoid adult corrections.
"I just hope as we move forward with what we are creating that we look at data-driven policies in juvenile justice," Webb said.
Tuesday's second juvenile justice measure — Senate Bill 158 — also won broad, bipartisan support on the floor.
Senate Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, who is the primary sponsor of the bill, said it calls for an independent performance review of DJJ detention facilities to be completed by mid-October.
Having access to employees is vital to getting a realistic idea of how things are going within the facilities, he said.
"There's a lot of concern that fact-finding can't happen in an atmosphere of oppression. And sadly enough, the culture and atmosphere in these facilities has been, 'Don't tell. Don't talk.' That's creating part of the culture problem in these facilities," he said.
Both bills now head to the House for consideration.
FRANKFORT —The Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee advanced a bill Tuesday that seeks to reduce some of the legal and regulatory hurdles for opening freestanding birthing centers in Kentucky.
Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, is Senate Bill 67's primary sponsor. She said that while freestanding birthing centers are already allowed in Kentucky, the measure seeks to modernize state statutes. It would also waive a requirement for centers to obtain a certificate of need when the center has four or fewer beds.
The legislation moved out of committee on a 7-3 vote with 1 pass. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
During testimony, Funke Frommeyer cited a 2017 example of a midwife who went through multiple appeals and exhausted her financial resources trying to open a center in Kentucky without success.
"Our point is reducing government intervention," she said. "We are pushing toward more free enterprise, reducing the cost to families, the cost to insurance companies and the cost to the state of Kentucky. We want to increase safety."
SB 67 defines freestanding birthing centers as any health facility or institution that is not part of a hospital but provides care during labor, delivery and the immediate postpartum period. The centers could also provide education.
"Freestanding birthing centers will give women and families a place for prenatal and perinatal mental health and anxiety attention. It will be much like an outpatient birthing experience," Funke Frommeyer said.
Other provisions in the bill clarify that center staff must complete records for vital statistics — such as birth certificates and paternity documents — and perform newborn screenings for heritable and congenital disorders.
Nancy Galvagni, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association, testified that the birthing centers must have proper oversight from an obstetrician, and she expressed concerns about safety at the centers. She said since 1983, six applications for a certificate of need for birthing centers were filed with the state. Three of them were granted and three of those were denied.
"If a complication during birth arises, a quick transfer from the birthing center to the hospital is going to be critical for the health and life of the mother and child, and without those written transfer agreements in place, a complicated birth could easily lead to the death of the mother, the baby, or both," she said.
Galvagni mentioned birthing centers in Tennessee and West Virginia that are owned by hospitals.
One at Vanderbilt University is operated under the direction of an obstetrician. It employs advanced practice nurse midwives, all of whom are credentialed by the Vanderbilt hospital, and it has the ability to quickly move a problematic birth to the university's hospital. It's not operated by non-nurse midwives as has been proposed here in Kentucky, she said.
Funke Frommeyer testified that those who have worked on the legislation tried to include some of the concerns hospital officials have expressed about the birthing centers.
Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, chairs the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee. He said SB 67 was discussed during the legislature's interim period and that committee members should have heard sooner from those who oppose the legislation.
Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, who is a practicing physician, said he sees the bill in two different parts — one about the freestanding birthing centers and one about the certificates of need. He said safety is extremely important.
"I love to cut costs. Anyone who knows me here in the Senate knows I want to cut costs because I want our taxpayers in the Commonwealth of Kentucky to stop carrying all that burden — that is those who are producing income. But not at the cost of lives," he said.
Douglas said the bill is a very good one, but more work needs to be done with it.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon, R-Georgetown, said he said he didn't know if the bill would advance off the Senate floor. However, he described the legislation as going in the right direction.
"It's very likely that we're going to have a task force or a working group or one or two committee meetings dedicated to the certificate of need issue this summer," he said.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, voted for the bill, noting that most of the births around the world occur outside a hospital setting.
"What makes me want to say 'yes' is that 42 states already do this, and not one of them has said this was a bad idea and reversed course," Thomas said. "So we know it works here in the country. I just hate it when Kentucky is always bringing up the rear instead of leading."
FRANKFORT —A bill to protect the religious freedom of public school teachers, faculty and staff is on the move in the Kentucky House of Representatives.
The House Education Committee approved House Bill 547 on Tuesday. The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, said the bill was inspired by a Supreme Court case that involved a high school football coach in Washington state who was fired for leading a group in prayer after a game.
"House Bill 547 is a bill that protects the faculty and staff's religious freedom in public schools," Fugate said. "It ensures the faculty that they have a right to express their faith. They may sponsor religious activities, student activities. They are protected from coercion and threats by government officials."
Under HB 547, a public school district employee would be permitted to engage in religious expression and discussion and share religious materials with other employees. The bill would also permit prayer or participation in religious study during breaks, during lunch or before or after school.
Public school employees would also be allowed to sponsor student religious clubs or organizations, plan religious events, wear religious clothing, symbols or jewelry. They would also be permitted to decorate their desks or other personal spaces with personal items that reflect their religious beliefs under HB 547.
A specific provision of the bill clarifies that no one should be required to participate in any prayer or other religious activity.
Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, asked Fugate to clarify why this legislation is needed in Kentucky.
"I know I've had conversations about religion with colleagues in my school building. We have a Fellowship of Christian Athletes group. Why do we need this legislation and why isn't it already covered with the First Amendment and our Constitution?" Bojanowski asked.
Fugate said HB 547 is needed due to out-of-state groups protesting prayer before football games.
"I hope that this bill shows that the teachers in Kentucky are supported by not only the Kentucky General Assembly but by the Supreme Court of the United States," Fugate said.
A couple of people expressed concerns about the bill, like Kate Miller, the advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. She said the bill creates a "gray area" that could cause increased litigation for school districts.
"We hope that the Kentucky General Assembly would consider amending the legislation to be more specifically in line with the Supreme Court decision," Miller said.
Rep. Kevin Jackson, R-Bowling Green, said he would vote "yes" on HB 547 in committee, but said he is afraid the bill might create a "slippery slope."
"I just worry sometimes if we're going to give our teachers and our schools and our educators so many different things that they have to keep up with that we're going to continue to have a shortage of educators in the state of Kentucky," Jackson said. "So, again, I want us to be careful."
Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, also voted "yes" on HB 547 because she believes "all people should be able to bring their whole selves to work."
HB 547 will now go before the full House for consideration.
FRANKFORT —State lawmakers spent the fifth week of the 2023 legislative session welcoming a new member to the ranks and debating a wave of high-profile bills on juvenile justice, gray machines, gender services and adult performances.
The Kentucky General Assembly only has 10 days left in the session, and virtually all of the most prominent bills are hanging in the balance. That means lawmakers face a busy schedule ahead before they break for potential vetoes on March 16, and the pace was already accelerating this week.
The House passed legislation on Kentucky's troubled juvenile justice system out of committee and off the chamber floor on Tuesday.
House Bill 3 seeks to reopen the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center and expand options for mental health care and restorative justice. It would also require that children taken into custody for a violent felony offense be detained a maximum of 48 hours before receiving a detention hearing and an evaluation on mental health and substance use disorders.
In addition, HB 3 would make violent youth offenses subject to open records for three years.
The Senate advanced a broader reform package out of committee Wednesday that seeks a comprehensive overhaul of juvenile justice — one that returns to a regional model of detention.
Senate Bill 162 would place all eight of Kentucky's juvenile detention centers under one office with a lead supervisor who reports directly the commissioner. Among many other changes, the bill would increase staffing and training, enhance mental health interventions, and provide better segregation of violent offenders.
On Thursday, the focus turned toward adult performances when the Senate passed Senate Bill 115 out of committee following some charged debate.
The bill would prohibit sexually-explicit performances on publically-owned property or in locations where the performances could be viewed by minors. That would include performances "involving male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest," according to the bill.
Later in the day, the House advanced legislation on gender-related services out of committee and off the House floor, generating similar contention among legislators.
House Bill 470 would create broad prohibitions against what it describes as "gender transition services" for anyone under age 18, including the use of puberty blockers, hormones and surgery. It would also block any public funding for those services and establish legal liability for claims against health care providers.
During an emotional debate, lawmakers sparred over medical evidence related to the issue. Supporters said the bill is needed to protect children from life-altering drugs and procedures, but critics said it will harm the mental health of transgender youths and interfere with parental rights.
The measure now heads to the Senate.
Lawmakers also worked into the evening on Thursday to pass a much-watched bill on gray machines, also called skill games, out of committee. House Bill 594 would clarify that gray machines are illegal in Kentucky; however, the measure was tabled on the House floor on Friday.
In the meantime, one new lawmaker has joined the action. Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D- Louisville, was sworn into the Senate on Thursday, filling the vacant seat of former state senator and now U.S. Rep. Morgan McGarvey.
Here's a look at some of the other legislation moving through the process this week:
Autonomous Vehicles: House Bill 135 would provide a regulatory framework for the use of fully autonomous vehicles on public highways. The House Transportation Committee passed the bill Tuesday.
Animal Abuse: House Bill 103 would increase the penalty for torturing a dog or cat from a class A misdemeanor on the first offense to a class D felony. It would also expand the definition of torture for this statute. The bill won approval in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Drug Test Strips: House Bill 353 would remove fentanyl test strips from state prohibitions on drug paraphernalia. It passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Personal Identification: House Bill 21 would help individuals who lack permanent housing obtain a driver's license or personal identification card. It cleared the House floor on Wednesday.
Kentucky Bar Association: House Bill 225 would lift requirements for licensed attorneys to join or pay membership dues to the Kentucky Bar Association. The measure received approval in the House Wednesday.
Safe at Home Act: Senate Bill 79 would expand the Address Confidentiality Program in the Secretary of State's Office, allowing victims of domestic violence, stalking and human trafficking to participate without a judicial protective order. It would also mask the addresses of those victims on more public records. The bill cleared the Senate floor on Wednesday.
Tracking Devices: Senate Bill 199 would outlaw the installation of tracking devices on motor vehicles without the consent of the vehicle owner or lessee. It passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
DUI Restitution: The Senate Judiciary Committee also passed Senate Bill 268 on Thursday. The legislation would allow courts to order restitution for children whose parents are killed or permanently disabled by an intoxicated driver.
Student Discipline: Senate Bill 202 would give local school boards more flexibility to place students into alternative learning programs if the student considered a safety threat or is likely to cause a substantial disruption. The Senate Education Committee advanced the bill on Thursday. A separate measure related to student expulsions, House Bill 538, cleared the House floor on Friday.
Unemployment Insurance: House Bill 146 cleared the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Labor on Thursday. It would set the minimum duration of unemployment benefits to 16 weeks — instead of 12 — and call on state unemployment officials to advise claimants on scholarship opportunities.
Student Vaccines: House Bill 101 would prevent the Kentucky Board of Education from requiring students to have a COVID-19 vaccine to attend school. The bill advanced Thursday out of the House Health Services Committee.
Teacher Misconduct: House Bill 288 seeks stronger requirements for disclosing teacher misconduct. It also sets forth a process to vet candidates more thoroughly and act decisively when allegations have been investigated and confirmed. The measure cleared the House floor on Thursday.
License Plate Readers: Under Senate Bill 129, entities that use automated license plate readers would be prohibited from selling that data or retaining it for more than 90 days, with some exceptions. SB 129 passed off the Senate floor Friday.
Child Abuse: Senate Bill 229 seeks to ensure that law enforcement, social services and other authorities are properly notified and communicating in cases of child abuse. The full Senate advanced the bill on Friday.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Frankfort on Tuesday for day 21 of the session.
Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to follow a bill's progression through the chambers.
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly's toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.
FRANKFORT —The issue of gray machines, or skill games, in Kentucky is back at the forefront for the Kentucky House of Representatives this legislative session.
The House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee approved House Bill 594 on Thursday. The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, said the purpose of the bill is to clarify what types of gaming are legal under Kentucky law.
"This bill explicitly states that the machines that operate the way gray machines operate are illegal," Timoney said.
HB 594 carves out exceptions for charitable gaming, e-sports competitions and skill-based contests. The bill defines "coin-operated amusement machines" like games played at retail establishments like Chuck-E-Cheese. Those along with carnival games would not be banned under this bill, Timoney said. Pari-mutuel wagering and historical horse racing would remain legal as well.
"(This bill) defines the things that are gambling and gambling devices and exempts those that are not," Timoney said.
HB 594 would also create a civil penalty for those who violate the statute. Anyone who conducts, finances, manages, supervises, directs or owns a gambling device would be subject to a $25,000 fine per device payable to the local county government.
Mike Barley, chief public affairs officer for Pace-O-Matic, a gray machines company, said HB 594 would hurt Kentucky small business owners who bring home thousands of dollars a year from these machines.
"Our legal skill games serve as an important lifeline to small businesses with fraternal clubs," Barley said. "They provide consistent, reliable and supplemental revenue for these establishments at a time they need it most."
Rep. Kim Banta, R-Fort Mitchell, said she would like to see gray machines become regulated instead of banned in Kentucky.
"I would like to see it regulated, passed and done," she said before voting "no" on HB 594.
Rep. Emily Callaway, R-Louisville, also voted "no" because her constituents would like to see gray machines remain in operation and she supports regulation.
Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, was one of the lawmakers to vote "yes" on HB 594. He believes legalizing and regulating casino gaming is the better route when it comes to gaming in Kentucky.
"It's in my opinion the proper way to do this," Gentry said. "The real focus is tourism. The real focus is generating non-resident tax revenues."
HB 594 is now before the full House for consideration after a 13-7 vote in committee.
FRANKFORT —The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Thursday to advance a bill that would allow courts to order restitution for children whose parents are killed or permanently disabled by an intoxicated driver.
The legislation — Senate Bill 268 — is named Melanie's Law after the cousin of the bill's sponsor, Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville. Melanie was left seriously injured following a crash involving an impaired driver.
Yates said his cousin is two weeks younger than he is, and she remains "hooked up on machines," fighting for her life after the vehicular crash last summer. Melanie's son, Nolan, was also in her vehicle during the crash, Yates said.
"We pray for a miracle every day for Melanie, but we know there's no way that she will ever be able to provide for this child," he said.
Yates said he learned as an attorney that it's not uncommon for similar situations to occur. He said many of those who are incarcerated for DUI-related charges spend "a little time in prison and come out" and go on with their lives.
"But for Nolan, he's going to struggle. And so what I believe is this is about fairness for the child. This is about accountability for the offender. It's the deterrent effect, because it's something that people will talk about," he said.
According to the bill, the convicted driver shall pay restitution to each child or dependent of the victim until the child or dependent reaches 18 years of age — or possibly longer if the child is still in high school.
The court shall determine an amount of restitution that is reasonable and necessary after considering all relevant factors. That includes the financial needs and resources of the child and the standard of living to which the child is accustomed, the bill states.
If a defendant who is ordered to pay child support is incarcerated and unable to pay restitution, they will have up to one year after release to begin making payments.
Yates said the measure will encourage justice for the victims.
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, said the bill seeks accountability.
"Fairness, accountability and justice — those are words that I love," he said. "We spend so much time these days trying to make offenders whole that we forget about the victims."
FRANKFORT — The Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to advance a comprehensive overhaul of Kentucky's troubled juvenile justice system that would increase staffing, improve mental health interventions, and keep youths closer to home.
The legislation — Senate Bill 162 — is based on the efforts of a legislative work group that began meeting in January to review ongoing issues in the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The group met with numerous state officials from all levels of the department, including former employees, and toured facilities throughout the state during the review.
While SB 162 would not solve all the problems the group identified, it would address most of pressing issues and provide a foundation for future reforms, according to the lead sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton.
"You all are aware of all the issues faced by DJJ, not just over recent months, but over recent years," Carroll told lawmakers Wednesday. "Rioting, fires, the violent rape of a young woman; another young, severely mentally ill woman confined to a cell, often naked, refusing to eat or bathe and receiving no physical or mental health care."
He said the review found understaffing within DJJ, a culture of self-preservation at the management level, fear of retaliation on the frontlines, a lack of faith in some management personnel, sparse or no communications, and a lack of services for youth with severe mental illness.
Among many provisions in the bill, it would create a compliance division within the department and place all eight of Kentucky's juvenile detention centers under one office with a lead supervisor who reports directly the commissioner.
The legislation also calls on the department to return to a regional model of detention that keeps youths closer to home and better segregates males from females and violent offenders from the non-violent population.
On mental health, SB 162 requires DJJ to maintain treatment options for children with severe emotional disturbances or mental illness. Other portions of the bill call for better data tracking, additional training — including for leadership — and a policy for youth workers to wear uniforms.
It also would channel millions of dollars into the system to improve salaries, expand the ranks of youth workers, upgrade security, develop an offender management system and improve diversion for youths with severe mental illness.
Committee members said changes in the DJJ population have made operations more complicated in recent years, and Carroll added that all of the issues combined with a more violent population were a "recipe for disaster."
"That disaster has occurred repeatedly over the past couple of years. And today, even though temporary safety measures are in place, DJJ remains in a state of crisis in many areas," he said.
Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, asked about housing males and females in the regional centers.
Carroll said one goal is to establish a safe environment that houses females in different areas with controlled access. If a riot breaks out in the male section of the facility, "they would be unable to gain access to the control room that would give them access to the female area."
Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, sponsored the resolution earlier this year to create the DJJ working group. He called the unstructured culture at DJJ a major issue.
"It's embarrassing that we have to write into legislation that professionals in this space should be required to wear a uniform," he said. "That's embarrassing."
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said there are many cultural changes affecting justice issues, including changes to family life and gang membership.
"We've had a change of people that we're serving as juveniles and the societal issues that they face and all of those things," she said. "We're usually slow to adapt and other states are going through the same thing."
Webb said staffing is very important, and she also stands behind the regional model for facilities.
"Everybody in the system has got to work together to improve the system. Everybody that touches that juvenile has got to work together. And that's why I think staffing is important," she said.
Carroll told committee members that the Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee continues to investigate the how and why DJJ ended up in crisis. The state's Juvenile Justice Oversight Council will also continue to review DJJ over the legislative interim and make recommendations for further action next session.
In addition to Wednesday's reform bill, the committee also advanced legislation — Senate Bill 158 — that calls for independent auditors to conduct a full performance review of DJJ's detention facilities.
Givens, who is sponsoring SB 158, said it will help get to the core of the culture question.
FRANKFORT — Changes to Kentucky's animal cruelty laws could be on the way under a new House bill.
House Bill 103 would redefine what torture, physical injury and serious physical injury or infirmity of a dog or cat means in state statute and make the first offense a class D felony, according to bill co-sponsor Rep. Nick Wilson, R-Williamsburg. The bipartisan bill's primary sponsor is Rep. Ryan Dotson, R-Winchester.
"This bill is badly needed," Wilson said. "There is a blind spot that I have experienced when it comes to the laws on animal abuse. During my experience as a prosecutor, we rarely had good options on combating animal abuse behavior."
Wilson shared an example of a case where a person shot a dog more than 30 times, but under current state law, the person could only be charged with a class A misdemeanor on the first offense. HB 103 would change that to a class D felony.
Under HB 103, torture would be defined as the intentional infliction or subjection to extreme physical pain or serious injury or death to a dog or cat. That would include injuries that occur because a dog or cat is restrained, such as being in dumped in a dumpster, sealed in a plastic bag or box, abandoned, or manually restrained, chained or tied down.
Some examples of torture of a dog or cat defined in the bill include, intentionally causing fractures, cuts, burns, bruises, punctures, hanging, impaling, skinning alive, physical disfigurement, dehydration, starvation, hyperthermia, hypothermia or death.
The bill would also allow a tortured dog or cat to be humanely euthanized at the recommendation of a veterinarian if the animal is seized but still alive and suffering.
Wilson said Dotson worked with many groups, including sportsmen and hunters, to craft this bill.
"(HB 103) has common sense exceptions for hunting, fishing, trapping, humane purposes, veterinary purposes, cosmetics, spay and neutering, sporting activities like dog shows, bonafide animal research, self-defense or defense of another person or pet," Wilson said.
Rep. Derek Lewis, R-London, asked Wilson if any sporting groups had any issues with the bill. Wilson said he was not aware of any.
Rep. Kim Banta, R-Fort Mitchell, spoke in favor of HB 103, but wants the Kentucky General Assembly to continue to strengthen animal cruelty laws.
"I think this is a good bill," she said. "I am going to be a 'yes.' It doesn't go far enough. I literally cannot stand this or any kind of abuse ... I say let's keep going."
HB 103 cleared the House Judiciary Committee by a 15-0 vote with two pass votes. It will now go before the full House for consideration.
FRANKFORT — A bill to reopen the Jefferson County Youth Detention center and expand mental health and restorative justice options for juveniles in the justice system advanced off the House floor Tuesday.
Bill sponsor Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, said House Bill 3 has been in the works for years and addresses many aspects of the juvenile justice system.
One major provision of HB 3 would require children taken into custody for a violent felony offense be detained a maximum of 48 hours before receiving a detention hearing and an evaluation on mental health and substance use disorders.
Bratcher said HB 3 will not "lock (children) up and throw away the key."
Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, has worked with Bratcher on the bill to add restorative justice services and expand mental health treatment access.
On the House floor, Moser said the amended version of HB 3 would allow the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to enter into a contract with a behavior health service organization that is qualified to provide restorative practices, which are designed to hold the juvenile accountable to the victim.
"I just really appreciate the work that's been done to not only keep our streets safer, but to provide the kids who are in the justice system with the care that they need," Moser said.
Additionally, HB 3 seeks to hold uncooperative parents accountable when it comes to their child's school attendance or participation in a diversion program and keep records open for three years for children convicted of a violent felony offense. An earlier version of the bill kept records for violent juvenile felony offenders open for five years.
Since HB 3 had its first committee hearing on Feb. 15, more funds have been appropriated in the bill toward the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) as a whole.
HB 3 would now appropriate $19.1 million toward the renovation and operation of the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center, $5.8 million toward transportation costs at the DJJ, $9.6 million toward staffing needs at the DJJ and $4.5 million toward the renovation of the Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Facility at Lyndon.
Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, attempted to amend HB 3 on the floor to remove the open records provision from the bill, but the motion failed.
"These are our kids, and I think it is extremely important that we do everything that we can possibly do to give these kids a chance at a good life, to rehabilitate from the mistakes they may have made," Gentry said.
In response, Bratcher said the purpose of opening records for juvenile violent felony offenders comes at the request of business owners who would like to know if a teenager they're hiring has a violent criminal record. Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, also said keeping records open for three years would prevent juveniles from being able to purchase a firearm.
Rep. Matt Lockett, R-Nicholasville, urged his colleagues to remember the victims of crime when considering HB 3.
"What about the victims? Where is their justice? Why are we not standing up for them? And I believe that this bill does that," Lockett said.
Several representatives from Louisville said their constituents are happy the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center would be reopened under HB 3. Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, is one of those lawmakers, but she believes the bill could do more.
"We cannot spend $39 million on incarcerating kids and not spend a penny on reentry, on intervention, on prevention and on alternatives to detention," Herron said.
In his final remarks, Bratcher said he hoped everyone would vote "yes" on the bill and "get the healing started in this state."
House Bill 3 was approved by a 79-18 vote. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.
FRANKFORT —The Senate Families and Children Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday to ensure law enforcement, social services and other authorities are properly notified and communicating in cases of child abuse.
Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, is sponsoring the bill. She said the legislation has been in discussions for several years following reports of child abuse in the Louisville Metro Police's Explorer Scout program.
"Part of the reason it was so frustrating is because they used kind of these loopholes in our current statute to avoid notifying the appropriate agencies," she said.
SB 229 calls for people reporting child abuse to immediately notify the proper authorities along with the leaders of institutions, schools and other agencies where the allegations occurred, regardless of the internal chain of command.
Authorities include the Kentucky State Police, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, a Commonwealth's attorney or a county attorney, according to the bill.
Leaders of the agency under investigation would be required to facilitate cooperation with those authorities, and any person who uses intimidation, retaliation, or obstruction to stifle the case would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
The bill would also allow the Department for Community Based Services to initiate an assessment or an investigation when child abuse or neglect is suspected.
Supporters said one goal of the bill is to ensure that multiple agencies are involved and cooperating in the investigation.
Caroline Ruschell, chief executive officer of the Children's Advocacy Centers of Kentucky, testified Tuesday that multiple agencies are critical when dealing with often horrific and heart-wrenching cases of abuse.
"These cases are complex. Children are complex. They have medical needs. They have mental health needs," Ruschell said. "There are prosecution needs if the case is going to move forward to prosecution."
Without cooperation between agencies, children and families won't get the help they need, she said.
"Here's the problem: None of those agencies can respond properly," Ruschell said. "We can't do what we need to do if the information isn't shared. And that's what this does. It ensures the right agencies get the information so that the kids and families get what they need."
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, said he was concerned about school systems conducting investigations and how cases could be destroyed.
"I know we had a bill a couple of years ago dealing with the school system," he said. "There are concerns about school systems doing their own investigations when these allegations come up and concerns about tainting investigations."
The bill was approved with a 7-0 vote and now heads to the full House for consideration.
The next committee meeting is Tuesday, March 7 at 9 a.m.
FRANKFORT — Lawmakers began to take the next step in addressing Kentucky's teacher shortage during Tuesday's House Education Committee meeting.
House Bill 538 would make changes to the student discipline process. Committee Vice-chair Rep. Timmy Truett, R-McKee, who is also an elementary school principal, said the bill is important when it comes to addressing Kentucky's education problems.
"This bill offers guidelines, procedures for how to handle disciplinary actions inside the school setting," Truett said. "Also the goal of this is to empower teachers to control what happens inside their classrooms. And by doing both of these things, I believe we can help with recruitment, and we can help with retention."
Under HB 538, school boards would be required to adopt policy that would require schools to expel students for at least 12 months when they pose a threat to the safety and wellbeing of students and school personnel. School boards would also be required to adopt policy that would require disciplinary action for a student who has physically assaulted, battered or abused personnel or other students off school property if the incident is likely to disrupt the educational process.
The bill would also permit a superintendent to place a student in an alternative program, including a virtual alternative program, if it is deemed appropriate for the student.
For teachers, the bill would prohibit a disruptive student who was removed from a classroom from returning for the remainder of the school day unless the teacher allows it. The bill also would deem a student who is removed from a classroom three times within a 30-day period as chronically disruptive and allow that student to be suspended.
Rockcastle County Schools Superintendent Carrie Ballinger joined Truett in testifying in favor of HB 538.
"This gives our administrators ability to make decisions on a case-by-case basis," Ballinger said.
During discussion, Rep. Felicia Rabourn, R-Pendleton, said she has concerns about the provision that handles disciplining students for incidents that happen outside of school.
"I would argue that section of the bill is completely unconstitutional," Rabourn said. "I don't believe it's the proper role of the school to interfere with what happens after school hours."
Eric Kennedy, director of advocacy for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said the language in the bill is narrowly written and in alignment with current law.
Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said she has concerns about what she believes will be unintended consequences of HB 538.
"We know that we have disproportionate outcomes in discipline by race, by poverty, by disability, by these other concerns," she said, asking if there are any guardrails in place in the bill to address those issues.
Truett said the classroom removal portion of the bill gives principals the ability to review why a student is having an issue with a particular teacher and determine if a situation warrants disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis.
"My goal is not to have more kids expelled," Truett said. "My goal is to have safety in the classroom and provide instruction to those students as opposed to expelling students and kicking them outside the school setting."
Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, spoke in favor of HB 538. He said the "status-quo cannot continue in schools."
"It is not fair to the 95% of our students who go to school to learn to not be able to learn in the classroom because of the constant disruptions," Riley added.
The House Education Committee approved HB 538 by a 17-4 vote. It will now go before the full House for consideration.
FRANKFORT — The Kentucky General Assembly has passed the halfway mark in the 2023 legislative session, and education is quickly becoming the headline issue as lawmakers continue to debate content in public schools and seek to address gaps in the teacher workforce.
The fourth week of the session brought a more complete view of the issues that lawmakers plan to tackle in 2023. That's because Tuesday was the last day for new bills in the Senate and Wednesday was the last day in the House.
As of Thursday morning, more than 870 bills had been filed in the two chambers combined.
Among them, measures on postpartum depression, unemployment insurance, firearms, hazing and data privacy were all on the move this week. But few issues garnered as much attention as Senate Bill 5, which sparked lengthy debates in committee and on the Senate floor Thursday.
SB 5 calls on local school boards to create a new, multi-pronged process for resolving objections over explicit materials in public schools. Supporters say it would help parents protect their children from harmful content and challenge materials that don't align with their values. Critics say it amounts to censorship that will hinder lessons on important topics.
The bill is one of several this year related to sensitive subjects and policies in public schools. It now heads to the House along with another education measure, Senate Bill 107, which likewise won approval in the Senate on Thursday.
SB 107 would establish a new seven-member committee — appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate — to nominate appointments to the state Board of Education. It would also require Senate confirmation for appointments to the position of state education commissioner.
Meanwhile in the House, legislation that seeks to ease teacher shortages, House Bill 319, was also advancing this week. The measure would clear the way for Kentucky to participate in the Interstate Teachers Mobility Compact. That would help streamline the process for military spouses who are certified to teach in other states to become certified here.
HB 319 would also allow someone with a bachelor's degree to teach classes in their field on a temporary basis and under the supervision of a certified teacher. The House Education Committee passed the bill on Tuesday
Here's a look at some of the other measures moving forward throughout the last four days:
Personal Identification: House Bill 21 would help individuals who lack permanent housing obtain a driver's license or personal identification card. The House Transportation Committee advanced the bill on Tuesday.
Unemployment Insurance: House Bill 146 would make technical updates to an overhaul of unemployment insurance that lawmakers passed last year. Among the changes, the measure sets the minimum duration of benefits to 16 weeks, instead of 12, and calls on state unemployment officials to advise claimants on scholarship opportunities. HB 146 cleared the House floor on Tuesday.
Physician Wellness: Senate Bill 12 would allow physicians to participate in wellness and career fatigue programs without disclosing their participation to employers. Supporters say it will help physicians deal with job-related burnout without fear of retaliation. The legislation moved off the Senate floor on Tuesday.
License Plate Readers: Under Senate Bill 129, law enforcement agencies, local governments or homeowner associations that use automated license plate readers would be prohibited from selling that data — or retaining it for more than 90 days — with some exceptions. The Senate Transportation Committee advanced the measure on Wednesday.
Firearms: House Bill 153 would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies and other public officials from enforcing federal firearm bans or regulations enacted after Jan. 1, 2021. The bill cleared the House floor on Wednesday.
Biomarker Testing: House Bill 180 would require health benefit plans to cover biomarker testing for patients who have been diagnosed with cancer and other diseases. The House passed the legislation on Wednesday.
Relief Funds: Senate Bill 99 seeks to enhance oversight and transparency of two Team Kentucky relief funds that the state executive branch established in the aftermath of recent floods and tornados. It passed out of the Senate on Wednesday.
Consumer Data Privacy: Senate Bill 15 passed out of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Cabinet on Thursday. It would create new consumer protections related to the collection and processing of personal data online. That includes the right of consumers to delete personal data and opt out of targeted advertising, online tracking and the sale or sharing of personal data.
Health Care Workers: House Bill 200 aims to address a shortage in health care workers by creating the Kentucky Health Care Workforce Investment Fund. It would use both public and private money to increase scholarship opportunities in the field. HB 200 cleared a vote in the House Committee on Health Services on Thursday.
Hazing: Senate Bill 9, known as "Lofton's Law," elevates the act of hazing to a crime. First-degree hazing would qualify as a Class D felony, while second-degree hazing would be a Class A misdemeanor. The Senate passed the measure on Thursday.
Sex Offenders: Senate Bill 80 also passed off the Senate floor on Thursday. It would prohibit those on the sex offender registry from loitering or operating a mobile business within 1,000 feet of schools, daycares, and public playgrounds or swimming pools.
KEES for Proprietary Schools: Senate Bill 54 would allow students to use a Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship to attend a qualified propriety school program that is focused on a high-demand work sector. The measure advanced off the Senate floor on Friday. A similar measure — House Bill 85 — moved out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
Postpartum Depression: Senate Bill 135 calls on the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services to create a panel focused on perinatal mental health disorders and provide related information and assessment tools for health care providers. The bill cleared the Senate floor on Friday.
The House and Senate are scheduled to gavel back in on Tuesday for day 17 of the session, and lawmakers have three more weeks before they break for a 10-day recess.
That schedule sets aside time for the governor to consider vetoes and leaves two legislative days on the calendar for lawmakers to override any vetoes before adjourning for the year on March 30.
Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to follow a bill's progression through the chambers.
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly's toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.
FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Senate approved a bill Thursday that calls on local school boards to create a new, multi-pronged process for resolving objections over explicit materials in public schools.
The measure — Senate Bill 5 — advanced off the Senate floor with a 29-4 vote after nearly an hour of ardent debate and now heads to the House for consideration. The bill moved out of committee following similar deliberations earlier in the day.
Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray, is sponsoring the bill. He told lawmakers on the Senate floor that it would help ensure parental involvement in materials, events and programs that affect their child's education.
"They need to be able to have a voice when those items are in conflict with their family's values and beliefs," Howell said. "This bill defines a process for a parent to lodge a complaint, to challenge material that they believe is harmful to minors or otherwise inappropriate to be in school."
The legislation would require local school boards to adopt a complaint resolution policy by July 1. It spells out a school principal's responsibilities to investigate the allegations, determine if the material is harmful to minors, and decide if it should remain available. The principal must reply to parents within 10 business days in most cases.
Parents would have the right to appeal a principal's decision directly to the school board. The board must then perform an administrative review, and address the issue in an open meeting that allows public comment. If parents disagree with the school board's decision, they may opt their children out of accessing the material or the event.
SB 5 also directs the Kentucky Department of Education to adopt a model policy for school boards by May 1. Another section seeks to define content that could be deemed harmful to minors.
"This bill brings clarity, consistency and accountability to the process," Howell said. "The goal of this bill is to allow the greatest flexibility possible in evaluating material under local values and norms all across the many diverse communities in our commonwealth."
Opponents of the bill raised concerns on both the floor and in committee, including Kate Miller, advocacy director of the ACLU of Kentucky. She called it state-sponsored censorship, and said limiting access to books inhibits the training of young people to think for themselves.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, called the measure a book-banning bill. He questioned how schools would teach about important topics — like lynching that involved the castration of Black males — or show historical photos from the Holocaust that might include nudity.
"That's what education is — allowing individual people to read, and be exposed to, and see and learn all different subject matter so that individual can have an understanding ...and critically think and analyze about those different subjects," he said.
Another critic, Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, agreed that some subjects are too heavy for young ages, but raised concerns that the bill would apply to all grade levels. He said his constituents don't want big government telling them what they can and can't read.
"Education is the way," he said. "It removes the racism, the homophobia, the sexism. Education is the great denominator that moves us forward, and we have to be really, really careful as we limit that."
Supporters of SB 5 challenged many of the comments.
"This is not book banning," said Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield. "This is putting in precautions to protect children from desensitizing them to sexual content."
Tichenor said some of the books in question include pedophilia, and she asked her colleagues where society should draw the line on materials for children.
A few supporters said some of the disputed content is too obscene to be read aloud in the chamber or in school board meetings.
Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said Howell was just trying to create due process for parents to raise objections.
"All he has done has put a mechanism in place to ensure that parents can have a voice in the education of their children," Meredith said. "To suggest otherwise is totally irresponsible and uncalled for. When are we going to let children be children?"
FRANKFORT —A new bill aimed to address Kentucky's health care worker shortage is on the move. The House Health Services Committee approved House Bill 200 on Thursday.
The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Ken Fleming, R-Louisville, said the bill would enable the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), health care programs and health care providers and facilities to match public and private dollars to award scholarships to eligible students. The fund would be called the Kentucky Health Care Workforce Investment Fund.
"We've worked very diligently in terms of trying to get something really innovative to address what I think the two main challenges we have in this Commonwealth: education workforce and health care workforce," Fleming said.
Nursing, nursing aide, mental health, social work and emergency medical services students would be eligible, with 65% of the fund being dedicated to scholarships.
"There is a significant need and deficiency in the eastern part of this state when it comes to EMS workers and so forth," Fleming said.
Fleming said HB 200 will "kick start career paths for all Kentuckians interested in a health care career."
CPE President Aaron Thompson testified alongside Fleming. He agreed there is a dire need in the Commonwealth for health care workers.
"We looked at predictive analytics and see that (the shortage) is going to grow, and if you look at prescriptive ways of handling this, I cannot think of a better legislative process than (HB 200)," Thompson said.
Betsy Johnson, president of the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities and the Kentucky Center for Assisted Living, said there are more than 700 open state registered nursing aide positions within the association's member facilities. "Nurse aides are the backbone of long term care, so we appreciate Representative Fleming for including nurse aides in House Bill 200," Johnson said.
Committee Chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, said she believes HB 200 is a "smart way" to address the health care worker shortage issue.
"I agree that this increases the pipeline, the potential pipeline, for those health care workers," she said.
HB 200 will now go before the full House after receiving approval from the House Health Services Committee by an 18-0 vote with one pass vote.
FRANKFORT —Kentucky law enforcement would not be allowed to enforce federal firearms bans under House Bill 153.
Bill sponsor Rep. Josh Bray, R-Mount Vernon, said the law is supported by the U.S. Constitution and would also prohibit enforcement of a firearm accessory or ammunition ban.
"(HB 153) says that the state of Kentucky will not use our tax dollars, our manpower, our resources, to enforce a federal firearms ban on ammunition, magazines, accessories or firearm types," Bray said. "The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that the state cannot be commandeered to enforce federal law."
This is not the first time the Kentucky General Assembly has considered this type of legislation, Bray said, adding that other states already have similar laws in place.
"Why this is so important? It ensures our fellow Kentuckians that the city police, the sheriffs or the state police aren't going to roll up and enforce this unconstitutional (firearm) ban," Bray said.
While debating the bill, House Minority Floor Leader Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said he believes HB 153 is unconstitutional.
"I'm coming on the (House) floor to say that we are not following the federal system of government if we tell people, and we let them think that, Kentucky law is supreme over federal law. That's not true," Graham said before citing Article 6, paragraph two of the U.S. Constitution.
Bray disagreed with Graham's interpretation of the bill. He said the bill is supported by the U.S. Constitution and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1997.
"Kentuckians should decide firearm policy through their elected representatives, not through some bureaucrat in Washington D.C. who is changing the interpretation of an existing federal guideline," Bray said.
Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, also spoke against HB 153. She said her constituents worry about gun violence.
"The people in District 35 worry every day about too little law enforcement of already existing laws," she said. "This law that would increase access to guns would reduce enforcement. It moves us exactly in the wrong direction on both counts."
Rep. Bill Wesley, R-Ravenna, however, said his constituents support HB 153, and people hurt people, not guns.
"I speak on behalf of Eastern Kentucky. We're not giving up any of our weapons," Wesley said.
On the House floor, House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, also spoke in favor of HB 153. He agrees with Bray that the legislation does not violate the U.S. Constitution.
"The United States Supreme Court said the federal government can have all the laws they want, but they have to enforce them," Nemes said. "We can agree to help them enforce federal law, but we're not required to."
The House approved HB 153 with a 78-19 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.
FRANKFORT — The Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday approved a bill to prohibit the selling of data obtained by automated license plate readers systems, among other measures.
Senate Bill 129, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, was approved with a 7-0 vote. Higdon is also chair of the Transportation Committee.
"My bill today is about ALPR cameras, better known by the brand name Flock cameras, which are quite popular these days. So we wanted to put some regulation on what could be done or how the data could be used," he said.
The automated license plate reader is a system of one or more mobile or fixed high-speed cameras combined with computer algorithms to convert images of license plates into data that is readable by a computer system, Higdon said.
The measure would affect any law enforcement agency, unit of local government or homeowner's association that deploys and maintains ALPRs.
Under the bill, any data captured on the cameras could not be retained for more than 90 days unless it is subject to a subpoena, part of a felony prosecution or is being used to collect tolls. SB 129 would also prevent entities from selling recorded images or data captured by the cameras.
Higdon said the cameras are very popular, and many other states use them.
Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, asked if other states have similar data protection legislation, and Higdon said they do.
"Almost 20 states have passed legislation to regulate the data that these cameras have. We're not trying to stop the cameras, we're just regulating the data that they generate," he said.
FRANKFORT —A bill aimed to tackle one of the biggest issues facing the Commonwealth this legislative session advanced out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday. education and public safety.
Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said he hopes House Bill 319 provides some relief to public schools that are facing a teacher shortage.
"As you know, we've heard testimony that there are between 1,500 and 2,000 current teacher certified job openings at any one time," Tipton said. "We've also been told that many school districts have had job openings that have been posted for the entire year that have not been filled. This would simply be another tool that principals and superintendents could utilize on a short-term basis."
One major provision of HB 319 would cement Kentucky's place in the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, if it is created. The compact would support military spouses who are certified to teach in other states by streamlining the pathway to become certified here and vice versa.
HB 319 would also allow someone with at least a bachelor's degree and at least four years of experience in their field to teach that subject under the supervision of a certified teacher. This section of the bill would expire in 2026, Tipton said. The bill would also allow classified personnel such as a teacher's aide to cover a class in a certified teacher's absence.
Additionally, HB 319 would create an online statewide job posting system for school job openings if funds are available, revise requirements for the state's teacher scholarship program, expand the GoTeachKY ambassador program if funds are available, and require exit surveys for school personnel leaving employment.
Tipton said he does not think HB 319 is going to completely solve Kentucky's teacher shortage problem.
"I do believe that House Bill 319 is a good first step to take some positive actions that will remove some of the burden, remove some of the regulation, remove some of the red tape, and make it easier and more conducive for individuals considering going into the teaching profession and to keep them in the teaching profession," he added.
Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, asked Tipton about the timeline for the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact. He said the program is being initiated by the Department of Defense, and Kentucky is the 11th state to propose legislation this year to join the compact. The program needs at least 10 states for it to be functional, he added.
Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, said HB 319 addresses a lot of needs, but he does have concerns about pay for a non-certified person in a certified teaching role.
"One of the concerns I have is when we have classified staff covering classes for people who are paid at a certified rate," he said. "... There are going to be some questions that we're going to need to talk budgetary (wise) next year."
Rep. Kevin Jackson, R-Bowling Green, also said he supports HB 319 and hinted there is more legislation to address the teacher shortage on the way.
"We need to do everything we can to get new teachers into the system, but we also need to take care of the ones that we already have and deal with the discipline situations that are occurring in our schools today," Jackson said.
The House Education Committee approved HB 319 by an 18-0 vote with two passes. It will now go before the full House for consideration.
FRANKFORT — The Kentucky General Assembly hit a new rhythm this week as lawmakers welcomed military kids to the Capitol and passed more than 50 bills out of committee with a heavy emphasis on both education and public safety.
The fast-paced week drew large crowds to the Capitol campus nearly every day, and when lawmakers gaveled out on Friday morning, more than a third of this year’s 30-day session was in the books.
Wednesday and Thursday marked some of the busiest days of the session so far.
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 3, which aims to revamp the state’s troubled juvenile justice system. It would ensure that any juveniles charged with a violent offense receive an evaluation and detention hearing within 48 hours of being taken into custody.
The measure also seeks to reopen a detention center in Louisville, improve accountability among uncooperative parents, and open up records on children convicted of a violent felony for five years. HB 3 now heads to the full House.
The following day brought heated debate when a key education bill – Senate Bill 150 – returned to committee for changes before advancing off the Senate floor that afternoon.
Proponents say SB 150 would provide more parental engagement on school policies or curriculum related to sensitive topics like sexuality, pronouns and student health services. Critics, however, say it could harm student safety and mental health, particularly among transgender students.
The measure now moves to the House for consideration.
Education remained a major theme throughout the week as bills on scholarships, dual credit, staffing and the state education board all cleared important hurdles. Lawmakers also aimed their sights on hazing, sex offenders and hair discrimination over the four days of legislative work.
Here’s a look at some of the issues getting attention:
Dual Credit: The House Education Committee advanced House Bill 18 on Tuesday. It would expand the dual credit options for Kentucky high schoolers by giving freshmen and sophomores the opportunity to take dual credit courses.
KEES for Workforce Training: House Bill 133 would allow students to use the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship to pay for workforce training programs in areas such as computer coding, pharmacy tech or commercial driver’s licensing. The bill also cleared the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
Firearms: House Bill 153 would prohibit local governments and law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal firearm bans. The House Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee advanced the measure on Tuesday.
Relief Funds: On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee passed Senate Bill 99. It seeks to enhance oversight of two Team Kentucky emergency relief funds that the state executive branch established in the aftermath of recent floods and tornados.
Physician Wellness: Senate Bill 12 would allow physicians to participate in wellness and career fatigue programs without disclosing their participation to employers. Supporters say it will help physicians deal with job-related burnout without fear of retaliation. The Senate Committee on Health Services advanced the measure on Wednesday.
Hazing: Senate Bill 9, known as “Lofton’s Law,” cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. It spells out criminal penalties for hazing, including first-degree hazing, which would be a Class D felony.
Sex Offenders: Senate Bill 80 also passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. It would prohibit those on the sex offender registry from loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, daycares, and public playgrounds or swimming pools.
The CROWN Act: Senate Bill 63 prevents discrimination on the basis of hairstyles and hair textures that are historically associated with race. It also cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
State Education Board: Senate Bill 107 would establish a new seven-member committee – appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate – to vet nominations to the state Board of Education. It would also require Senate confirmation for appointments to the position of state education commissioner. The Senate Education Committee advanced the measure on Thursday.
School Staffing: House Bill 32 would allow school districts to hire classified personnel, such as cafeteria workers and bus drivers, without a high school diploma or GED – if the school system provides those employees an opportunity obtain their GED at no cost. The bill cleared the House floor on Friday.
In addition to voting on bills, the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus launched its inaugural Black History Speaker Series this week with a guest speaker and musical performances in the rotunda.
Another event attracting visitors was Military Kids Day, an annual effort to give military children a sampling of the legislative process. Dozens of children and their family members attended the event on Thursday. Lawmakers are scheduled to gavel back in on Tuesday for day 13 of the session, and the window to file new bills is closing. Many lawmakers will spend the next few days engaging with stakeholders and fine-tuning legislation before deadlines expire next week.
Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to follow a bill’s progression through the chambers.
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.
FRANKFORT – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a measure – known as Lofton’s Law – that would spell out criminal consequences for hazing.
Supporters of the bill say the current wanton endangerment charge in Kentucky doesn’t adequately cover all acts of hazing, and it merits separate criminal status.
Under Senate Bill 9, a person’s guilty of hazing in the first degree when he or she intentionally or wantonly engages in the act of hazing that results in the serious physical injury or death of a student,” the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, said.
Under the proposed legislation, first-degree hazing will be a Class D felony. Second-degree – when people recklessly engage in the act of hazing – will be a Class A misdemeanor, Mills said.
Family members of Lofton Hazelwood attended the meeting in the Capitol Annex. Lofton passed away in 2021 after consuming alcohol at a University of Kentucky fraternity house, his mother, Tracey Hazelwood testified.
Hazelwood said her son was initially excited about joining the fraternity, but everything changed as pledges were asked to participate in questionable activities.
On the night Lofton died, the fraternity brothers were supposed to go serenading, a common Greek activity. However, his mother said pledges were told it was a tradition to drink strong alcohol.
“My son’s blood alcohol was 0.354. He drank so much that he couldn’t walk, and they took him up to a bedroom upstairs and left him by himself. And they all left to go serenading,” she said.
Hazelwood said it was nearly an hour later when a young man came into the house and found her son had passed away.
“Senate Bill 9 will send a message that Kentucky values students’ safety. And Senate Bill 9 will hold people accountable, especially those responsible for serious bodily harm or death, as in Lofton’s case,” she said.
Mills said current Kentucky law leaves enforcement to universities and colleges with the maximum penalty of expulsion. SB 9 seeks to add Kentucky to a list of 13 other states that boost hazing to criminal status.
“We believe that the elevation of hazing to a crime addresses head-on the seriousness of these actions,” he said. “It lets students know that Kentucky values students’ safety. And any violations of their safety will be addressed.”
Sen. Johnnie Turner, R-Harlan, said the legislation will spell out consequences for hazing.
“So it’s very clear here the prosecutor will have no choice. If somebody’s injured, they’re going to get charged with that offense,” he said.
Sen. Matthew Deneen, R-Elizabethtown, said that as a former educator, he believes the legislation is extremely important.
“We’re entrusted with the most valuable assets that we have in Kentucky,” he said. “As educators, parents give us their children for most of the day, and as they go to university for a period of four years and sometimes longer. It is our responsibility to do what we can to instill that trust and awareness, the value that they are putting in our hands as educators, he said.
Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, said she supports the legislation and the courage of Lofton’s parents.
“Hazing is a problem. It is a big problem,” she said. “My child, in his fraternity, actually accepted the job of being the one to go and learn from national (headquarters) exactly what the rules were and to make sure that they were applied to the best of his ability at his fraternity.”
FRANKFORT — The House Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee advanced legislation Thursday morning to make some updates to the state’s unemployment system.
In 2022, the Kentucky General Assembly approved House Bill 4, which changed the length of unemployment insurance benefits and the job search requirements for recipients. The length of benefits is now based on the state’s average unemployment rate, and recipients are required to engage in at least five verifiable work search activities a week.
House Bill 146 makes some technical updates to last year’s HB 4, according to the bill’s sponsor Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville. The most notable change is claimants would receive 16 weeks of benefits instead of 12 weeks when the unemployment rate is at 4.5%, beginning July 1.
“(HB 146) really does not change the overall intent of House Bill 4, which was to promote rapid reemployment and maintain or build the trust fund sustainability that we’ve had an issue with over the last number years,” Webber said.
Webber said the updates proposed in HB 146 come at the request of the U.S. Department of Labor. It is common practice for the state to communicate with the federal government on this type of legislation to ensure it aligns with federal law, he said.
HB 4 originally gave an additional four weeks of benefits to individuals with a specified return to work date. Webber said the U.S. Department of Labor told the state it cannot do that based on a court decision from 1964.
In 2022, several lawmakers criticized HB 4 for the work search requirements and how Eastern Kentucky residents may be disproportionally impacted by that provision of the bill.
On Thursday, Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, and Rep. Ashley Tackett Laferty, D-Martin, asked Webber if there had been any issues with the work search requirement since HB 4 went into effect on Jan. 1.
Webber said while it is mostly too early to tell the exact impact, there had been some applicants who were struggling to meet that requirement.
Another provision in HB 146 would require the Office of Unemployment Insurance to educate claimants on resources to further their education. That includes participation in an approved job training and certification program that would make them eligible for five extra weeks of benefits, Webber said.
Additionally, Webber said he hopes the changes encourage Kentuckians seeking work to explore new employment opportunities they may not have originally considered in a field they have never worked in before.
Tackett Laferty still expressed concerns for Eastern Kentucky residents who may not have as many jobs available to apply for and may face a lack of internet access.
“I just worry when those opportunities are not there through no fault of their own,” she said.
Webber said he has asked for the Office of Unemployment Insurance to keep track of issues applicants are having and that he has met with other lawmakers about the job situation in Eastern Kentucky.
“I’m interested in making everyone, every region in the Commonwealth of Kentucky successful,” Webber said.
The House Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee approved HB 146 unanimously. It will now go before the full House for consideration.
FRANKFORT — The Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee approved a measure Wednesday that supporters say would shore up oversight of two Team Kentucky relief funds for victims of flooding and tornadoes.
Committee members advanced Senate Bill 99 with an 8-0 vote, and it now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, cited news reports that some people have received checks from the funds erroneously, including one individual in his district.
“He had never sustained or applied for any damage, and didn’t get a very helpful response from the Public Protection Cabinet,” Westerfield said. “But regardless of that, I think it’s fair for us to just ask questions about where the money has gone, how they made decisions about how to distribute money.”
The state executive branch established both Team Kentucky relief funds under the Public Protection Cabinet. One was in response to the 2021 tornados in Western Kentucky. The other followed the flooding in Eastern Kentucky in 2022.
Those funds are different from two other relief funds that the General Assembly created after each disaster.
Westerfield said the Team Kentucky funds operate outside provisions in the state Constitution, which he said gives lawmakers authority to appropriate money in state hands.
SB 99 calls on the Public Protection Cabinet to provide an analysis of the relief funds to lawmakers by June 30. The report must include a list of expenditures and recipients along with the purpose of the assistance. It must also provide information on any guidelines used to allocate the assistance.
Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, asked when the legislation would become effective.
Westerfield said an emergency clause would allow the bill to take effect immediately if it becomes law.
Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, who is chair of the committee, said the executive branch’s intention with the fund is clear, but there needs to be more accountability.
“They don’t really know where the money is right now, and they don’t know how it’s been disbursed,” he said. “I think this is the General Assembly extending a little bit of grace to them to try to clean up their accounting.”
Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, said legislators agree on helping others after disasters. However, he raised concerns the Team Kentucky funds could create a precedent for other, more controversial funds in the future.
“I like what you are doing by probing this question, and I think that’s why appropriation actions belong in the hands of the General Assembly,” he told Westerfield.
No one spoke in opposition to the bill.
FRANKFORT— Kentucky’s juvenile justice system is likely to undergo some major changes before the end of the 2023 legislative session.
House Bill 3 is one of several juvenile justice reform-related bills that will be considered this year, according to the bill’s sponsor Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville.
Under HB 3, children taken into custody for a violent felony offense will be detained a maximum of 48 hours before receiving a detention hearing and an evaluation on mental health and substance use disorders, Bratcher said.
“I believe those two things are very important for our most troubled children to try to get their lives turned around,” Bratcher added.
Additionally, HB 3 seeks to:
-- hold uncooperative parents accountable when it comes to their child’s school attendance or participation in a diversion program;
-- open records for five years for children convicted of a violent felony offense; and
-- allocate $9 million to the state Department of Juvenile justice for reopening the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center with 40 beds.
Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, shared several concerns she has with the bill, including a section addressing juvenile record confidentiality.
Josh Crawford, a Louisville resident and director of criminal justice initiatives for the Georgia Center for Opportunity, said that portion of the bill only applies to children convicted of serious felony offenses and the information would be relevant when it comes to employment opportunities and firearm purchases.
Bratcher said he would be willing to work with lawmakers who have concerns about that section of the bill to narrow the scope of what would be made public record.
Herron, who has worked in the juvenile justice system, said the legislature should be cautious.
“We are doing a lot on the adult (justice) side as it relates to reentry and second chances, and so we need to make sure we’re doing the same thing for juveniles,” Herron added.
Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, said she is also in favor of a restorative justice approach for children in the juvenile justice system. She said she plans to file a floor amendment to HB 3 to allow children to receive treatment while incarcerated.
Following testimony from concerned community members, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said he agrees with a lot of what was said, but he believes HB 3 will protect children and Kentucky’s communities, especially in Louisville.
“We want them to be safe, successful, good citizens, good mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters for the rest of their life,” Nemes said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved HB 3 by a 15-1 vote with two pass votes. It will now go before the full House for consideration.
FRANKFORT — Students seeking to use the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) for workforce training programs may get to under House Bill 133.
The House Education Committee unanimously approved the legislation Tuesday morning.
According to bill sponsor Rep. Steve Bratcher, R-Elizabethtown, the legislation would allow students to seek education opportunities outside of the typical college route that KEES money currently funds.
“It’d be for things like (commercial driver’s) licensing, computer coding, Kentucky medication aide, pharmacy tech, phlebotomy nursing aid, things like that,” Bratcher said. “Items and careers we need in the Commonwealth.”
HB 133 defines an approved workforce solutions training program as a local, high-demand work sector training program offered by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS).
Jessie Schook, associate vice president of workforce and economic development for the KCTCS, testified alongside Bratcher. She said the workforce solutions training programs are there to address immediate labor market needs in Kentucky.
“In some instances, the programs are offered for credit and do translate directly into a further education pathway such as an associate degree in science or art,” Schook said.
Committee Chair Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, asked Bratcher if the bill would have a negative impact on the Kentucky Lottery funds from which KEES money is derived.
Erin Klarer, vice president for government
relations and communications for the Kentucky
Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA),
said the utilization of the KEES dollars will be
done through a reimbursement process.
“A student will submit receipts to use, and we will reimburse up to the earned KEES amount,” Klarer said.
Right now, KHEAA estimates that the maximum utilization in one year will increase KEES expenditures by $100,000, Klarer added.
Overall, the answer to Tipton’s question was no, HB 133 will not have a negative impact.
If the bill becomes law, it would take effect for the academic year beginning July 1, 2023.
HB 133 will now go before the full House for consideration.
FRANKFORT — The second part of the 2023 Regular Session was well underway this week as lawmakers moved bills to reduce income taxes, address sensitive topics in public schools and ban TikTok on state government devices.
In a rare move, the House also voted Thursday to impeach Commonwealth's Attorney Ronnie Goldy Jr., who serves the 21st Judicial District in Eastern Kentucky. It marked only the fifth time in state history that lawmakers have adopted articles of impeachment against a public official.
The General Assembly is meeting in a short, 30-day session this year as opposed to the longer, 60-day sessions that occur in even-numbered years. Short sessions are divided into two parts, and the second part commenced Tuesday on a bipartisan note.
That’s when state leaders from all three branches of government – and both political parties – gathered in the Capitol Rotunda for the annual Black History Celebration, hosted by the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus.
However, as the week continued, lawmakers remained divided on two of the biggest bills moving through the General Assembly this year.
House Bill 1 drove heated debate on the Senate floor Wednesday. The legislation would reduce state income taxes from 4.5% to 4% at the start of 2024. It would also codify a reduction from 5% to 4.5% that took effect earlier this year.
The bill is part of a broad, multi-year effort to gradually reduce and eliminate income taxes while also expanding the overall tax base. Supporters say it will provide Kentuckians with needed financial relief and create a stronger environment for economic growth. But critics say the changes will harm state coffers and shift the state’s tax needs to people in lower income brackets.
HB 1 cleared the Senate floor on a 30-5 vote and is now awaiting a decision from the governor.
The second measure galvanizing debate this week was Senate Bill 150, which advanced out of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.
Supporters say the bill seeks to ensure parental communication and input on school policies and curriculum related to sensitive topics, including human sexuality, health services and the use of pronouns. Opponents have raised concerns, however, that the measure could harm student safety and mental health, especially when parents or teachers don’t affirm a student’s identity.
The legislation passed out of committee with an 11-1 vote and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
Lawmakers moved a few additional bills during the four-day week, including measures on state scholarships and TikTok.
Senate Bill 24 would offer homeschooled students more access to the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) based on test scores that correlate to grade point averages. It cleared the Senate Education Committee on Thursday and now moves to the full Senate.
Senate Bill 20 would ban use of the social media app TikTok on state government networks and devices. The measure moved off the Senate floor on Friday after lawmakers said the app – owned by the Chinese company ByteDance – is a threat to the state’s data security. It now heads to the House.
The General Assembly is scheduled to gavel in on
Tuesday for the ninth day of the session.
Lawmakers have until Feb. 21 to introduce new bills in the Senate and until Feb. 22 to introduce new bills in the House. More than 300 bill have been filed in the session so far.
Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Recordwebpage, which allows users to follow a bill’s progression through the chambers.
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.
FRANKFORT — Members of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would offer parents of homeschooled students more access to Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship money if the student scores high enough on a test.
The KEES program provides scholarships to students who earn at least a 2.5 GPA each year of attendance at a certified Kentucky high school. However, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said Senate Bill 24 would allow families with homeschools to access more scholarship money.
“We’re talking about parents who have taken it upon themselves the responsibility to educate their own children,” he said. “As testified during the interim (period) by university administration officers from Thomas More University, as a group, these are some of the most prepared students for college that we have in the commonwealth.”
Schickel said there are some exceptions, and not all of the students will qualify for KEES money. But many will, and the parents have given the state a break because they have taken the costs to educate their children on themselves, he said.
“So what this bill attempts to do is to give those parents some access to KEES money in the manner that traditional students have. Specifically, the transcript part of the KEES money, and it provides a testing mechanism,” he said.
Schickel said there was previously a dual credit proposal before the committee that would be based on dual credit scores from the university, but it changed to the current legislation.
“After some discussion with you on the committee, we decided it was better to go to a testing model,” he said. “So we have created a conversion chart where these students can test, and based on the score of that test, receive the transcript portion of the money, which a traditional student would receive.”
Schickel said it’s interesting to point out that in an age when people are asking to avoid being tested, the homeschooled students are volunteering to be tested.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, asked Schickel if the students are already receiving some KEES money.
“There are two pots,” Schickel said. “One pot is for the testing. They can currently get that money, but they cannot get the transcript part for the grade point average because they don’t have a traditional grade point.”
The bill received its first reading on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon.
FRANKFORT — The Senate on Wednesday approved legislation to reduce the state’s income tax rate after supporters and opponents shared impassioned speeches on the chamber floor.
House Bill 1 calls for income taxes to be reduced from 4.5% to 4 % at the start of 2024. It’s part of a broader, ongoing effort to gradually eliminate income taxes while also expanding the overall tax base.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, was present in the chamber after the legislation passed with a 30-5 vote. But Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, presented the bill on the floor.
“When we did this, we really wanted to make certain that the approach we took was thoughtful and logical, provided opportunities for checks on the actions that would occur, and then also that we would be very realistic about the financial demands of the commonwealth as well as the importance of letting people keep more of their hard-earned money,” he said.
Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation that set the stage for a revamp of state taxes over several years.
That measure established “triggers” that will lower the state income tax rate by either a half or full percentage point once state revenues reach certain levels. Revenues met the first trigger in 2022, which reduced the state income tax from 5% to 4.5% on Jan. 1.
McDaniel said there are checks in place to ensure the tax reduction does not negatively impact the state financially.
One requirement is that the budget reserve trust fund must total more than 10% of the receipts for the following year. Another is the amount of the income tax reduction can’t be more than half of the amount of the state’s anticipated budgetary surplus.
During debate on the Senate floor, supporters argued that the changes will allow Kentuckians to keep more of their income and create a stronger environment for attracting jobs and growing the economy.
“I never thought I would be here listening to people argue about lowering taxes,” said one supporter, Sen. Michael J. Nemes, R-Shepherdsville. “Maybe I just hang around working people, but for all of my life, they’ve argued, ‘stop taking my money, stop raising my taxes, stop wasting my money.’”
Opponents, however, said the overhaul will harm state coffers and transfer more of the state’s tax liability to people in lower income brackets.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said Kentucky’s citizens have many needs that are going to be unmet, including childhood poverty.
“Why we want to engage in this reverse Robin Hood mentality confounds me,” he said. “We want to take from the poor and give to the rich. It makes no sense at all.”
Senate Minority Whip David Yates, D-Louisville, said the tax cut is actually just a restructuring and that many Kentuckians will pay more money out of pocket at the end of the year.
“I keep hearing tax cuts, tax cuts. When I first came into the session we talked about the tax cuts,” he said. “I think since then my constituents, the working families, have realized that it hasn’t been a tax cut. It’s a tax restructuring.”
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said tax policy is a serious matter, and she voted against the measure, arguing that it will benefit people with higher incomes.
“As we’ve shifted in the past to more consumables taxes, that hurts low-income people,” she said.
But Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, disagreed, saying that the bill’s detractors were relying on old, worn out arguments.
“With this tax cut, another $650 million a year will stay in the checkbooks and the savings accounts of the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” he said.
The bill now heads to the governor.
FRANKFORT — Members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday approved legislation calling for the prohibition of the social media app TikTok on state government networks and devices.
TikTok is a social media network service owned by a Chinese company named ByteDance. Most Chinese companies are connected directly or are partially owned by the Chinese government, said the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson.
“Recently, the FBI has been quoted as saying the video sharing app poses a national security concern,” he said. “TikTok is part of a larger Chinese government effort to expand extraterritorial control over digital platforms worldwide.”
Mills told committee members the legislation, Senate Bill 20, is needed to protect data on state devices. He described TikTok as a “known data mining app,” and said the measure will ensure that existing bans – accomplished through policy – will not time out.
“This has been obviously in the news a lot, and I think there’s quite a bit of data that shows that it’s not safe to have this… on computers, laptops and things of that nature,” he said.
Mills said Apple Inc. and Google have been asked by the Federal Communications Commission to remove the TikTok app from their app stores because of its pattern of data harvesting.
“Nearly half of all the states in the United States have banned TikTok from government devices. Additionally, Congress has recently acted and banned the app as well from their devices,” Mills said.
The committee unanimously approved by the measure with a 9-0 vote. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
FRANKFORT — The Kentucky General Assembly kicked off the 2023 Regular Session this week by welcoming dozens of new lawmakers into the ranks and moderating the tempo somewhat in a nod to the traditional “short” sessions of the past.
But even with the new members and measured pace, legislation on two key issues cleared important hurdles over the first four days.
On Thursday, the House advanced House Bill 1, which builds on a major overhaul to Kentucky’s tax structure that began last year. The bill would codify a drop in the state income tax rate from 5% to 4.5% for 2023 and further reduce the rate to 4% beginning next year.
Supporters say the overhaul will provide financial relief to Kentuckians by gradually eliminating state taxes on personal income while simultaneously expanding the state’s overall tax base. Critics, however, say it will undermine state revenues without offering much benefit to middle- and low-income families.
HB 1 now heads to the Senate for consideration.
On Friday, the Senate passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 31 to create an emergency work group that will examine the state’s troubled juvenile justice system.
The panel will review safety, staffing and management of the system to determine if reforms are needed and report their findings back the General Assembly.
Friday’s proceedings concluded Part I of the 2023 session, one in which new members make up nearly a quarter of the legislature. When the chambers gaveled in on Tuesday, a total of 31 new lawmakers received the oath of office – 25 in the House and six in the Senate.
Along with the fresh faces came changes to committees and even some to leadership, including the minority floor leaders in both chambers. Both chambers also decided to divide up their respective committees on health, welfare and family services into separate committees this year that could better focus on key issues.
The Senate also took time on Friday to say goodbye to Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, who has accepted an appointment as commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Health.
Amid all the changes, one of the most noticeable differences this week was an effort to return to the original intent of the short, 30-day legislative sessions.
Ever since an amendment to the state constitution in 2000, the General Assembly has met in short sessions during odd-numbered years. The proceedings were intended to bridge the gap between longer, 60-day sessions in even-numbered years.
Early on, lawmakers tended to avoid major legislation during short sessions, opting instead to focus on smaller issues and procedural matters. But short sessions have grown more complex over time.
House Speaker David W. Osborne, R-Prospect, told reporters on Tuesday that, after several years of aggressive agendas, he expects lawmakers will pump the breaks some this year.
“I think this is going to be a much more traditional short session,” he said.
Part II of the session is set to convene on Feb. 7. Lawmakers have until Feb. 21 to introduce new bills in the Senate and until Feb. 22 to introduce new bills in the House. The chambers are scheduled to adjourn sine die on March 30.
Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to follow a bill’s progression through the chambers.
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.
FRANKFORT— The Kentucky House of Representatives made another step toward eventually eliminating the state income tax rate with the passage of House Bill 1 on Thursday.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, said HB 1 is essentially a continuation of House Bill 8 from the 2022 legislative session, which set that stage for a major overhaul of Kentucky’s tax structure.
Reed said HB 1 will codify the state income tax rate reduction to 4.5% from 5% for 2023 and further reduce the state income tax rate to 4% beginning Jan. 1, 2024.
Last year’s HB 8 established “triggers” that will lower the state income tax rate by either a half or full percentage point once state revenues reach certain levels. Revenues met the first trigger in 2022, which automatically reduced the state income tax from 5% to 4.5% on Jan. 1. Further income tax rate reductions require legislative approval.
Reed said HB 1 puts the General Assembly, “another step closer to putting more money back into the pockets of hard working Kentuckians.”
“With HB 1, we are sending a statement to the hardworking Kentuckians that Frankfort has budgeted to our needs, not our wants; made investments, paid down debt, and we have saved,” Reed said. “We are reducing their tax burden, so they can further invest, pay down debt and save for their families.”
The House debated HB 1 for nearly an hour and a half Thursday with Minority Floor Leader Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, being one of the members to speak against the bill. Graham said the state’s current surplus is the result of one-time federal COVID-19 relief funds. He expressed concerns that the state and its budget will struggle in the future under the new tax plan.
“What we’re seeing is that we’re thinking about now and not about tomorrow,” Graham said. “And if we continue down this path, when all of the federal dollars are gone, the Commonwealth of Kentucky is going to have a difficult time trying to fund pre-K and higher education, our state government, our state employees (and) our retirees.”
Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, agreed and stated that the tax cut benefits the wealthy the most and hardly makes an impact on middle- and low- income Kentuckians, especially after HB 8 in 2022 raised taxes on certain services.
“Middle-income families like mine will get an income tax reduction of about 300 bucks,” she said. “Three hundred bucks is a wash for the bank accounts of middle income and working class families who are now paying more for Christmas photos and little league than they’re getting back under this bill.”
Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, was among the House members to vote “yes” on HB 1. He said with passage of the measure, it was “a great day” and a “banner” day for Kentucky.
“This bill is about tomorrow because it will hopefully provide the jolt to our state that we need,” Nemes said. “States with a 0% income tax have grown 56% faster since 2000.”
Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, agreed that HB 1 is the right move for Kentucky. He said since the first reduction bill in 2018, which lowered the state income tax rate from 6% to 5%, Kentucky has seen “significant revenue gains.”
“Now it’s time for taxpayers to reap the benefits,” Meade added.
The House approved HB 1 by a 79-19 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.
FRANKFORT — The new Senate Standing Committee on Families and Children held its first meeting Wednesday, discussing plans to take aim at important and complicated issues in Kentucky.
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, chairs the committee. He said its jurisdiction includes family and children’s issues, child welfare, adoptions, protective services, caregiver support, family preservation programs, senior citizen programs, sexual assault programs and much more.
Carroll said he looks forward to pinpointing important issues. One of the biggest priorities will be child abuse and neglect, he said, noting that Kentucky ranks among some of the worst states in the nation in those areas.
“That’s completely unacceptable, and I’m hopeful that within this committee we can focus on specific issues and really make an impact,” Carroll said.
Lawmakers established the new group on Tuesday – the first day of the 2023 legislative session. In previous years, the issues of health, welfare and family services all fell under the jurisdiction of one committee. However, the Senate decided to divide the issues up between two committees this year, and the House has taken a similar approach.
On Wednesday, the Senate committee heard testimony from Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Friedlander praised the General Assembly for the change and said some issues were often overshadowed under the old structure such as the mission of the state Department for Community Based Services (DCBS).
“Medicaid hospital providers, nursing facilities – that’s where a lot of the attention goes and not enough attention then goes to the DCBS side, the child protective service side, the adult protective service side, which hardly anybody ever talks about and is critically important,” he said.
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said she looks forward to collaboration with Friedlander and others.
“As a practitioner, I’m glad to see this change, and I have had a lot of thoughts over the years of the way things could be done better,” she said. “And I am on the ground in the trenches working with your field people and the challenges that they face too.”
Carroll said he supports working with CHFS officials as well.
“I think we’re on the same page in a lot of areas,” he said. “What we deal with are not political issues. These are dealing with our families and with our kids, and I think it’s crucial that the legislative and the executive branch work together.”
Other committee members include Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, vice chair; and members, Sen. Rick Girdler, R-Somerset; Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester; Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leichfield; Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville; Sen. Amanda Mays Bledsoe, R-Lexington; Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield; Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton; and Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville.
FRANKFORT — The Kentucky General Assembly will kick off the 2023 legislative session on Jan. 3, and Kentuckians have many ways to follow along with the action.
-- Kentuckians can use online resources to:
-- See the General Assembly’s daily schedule
-- Tune in to live coverage of legislative meetings
-- Find information on their legislators
-- Contact lawmakers and offer feedback
-- Read bills and resolutions
-- Receive a notice when a bill advances
-- See how lawmakers voted on bills and resolutions
-- View materials on committee topics and testimony
-- Learn about the legislative process
All that and much more is available on the General Assembly Home Page: https://legislature.ky.gov/pages/index.aspx.
Following the General Assembly’s work often begins with a daily look at the Legislative Calendar: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/LegislativeCalendar. The calendar shows which committees are meeting and when the Senate and House will convene.
Livestreams of legislative action can be viewed through feeds provided by Kentucky Educational Television (KET) and the Legislative Research Commission (LRC).
KET livestreams all chamber proceedings, while committee meeting coverage is provided by both KET and LRC. For links to the livestreams, go to https://legislature.ky.gov/Public%20Services/PIO/Pages/Live-Streams.aspx.
You can find each lawmakers’ contact info, biographical info, committee assignments and sponsored legislation by clicking on the “Legislators” tab near the top of the General Assembly Home Page: https://legislature.ky.gov/Pages/index.aspx. You can also look up who represents your district.
The online Legislative Record ( https://legislature.ky.gov/Legislation/Pages/default.aspx) has information on every piece of legislation introduced in the Senate and House. You can read summaries, the full text of bills, resolutions, amendments and see exactly how far each piece of legislation has advanced in the process. Bills can be looked up according to bill number, sponsor or topic. If a bill has been voted on in a chamber, you can see how each lawmaker voted by clicking “Vote History” on a bill’s summary page.
Bill Watch, a bill tracking service provided through a partnership of Kentucky.gov and LRC, sends users email notifications each time the bills they are interested in take a step forward. To sign up for Bill Watch, go to https://kentucky.gov/services/pages/billwatch.aspx.
Information about legislative committees is available at https://legislature.ky.gov/Committees/Pages/default.aspx. To view materials such as info sheets, handouts and PowerPoint presentations that are compiled for lawmakers to review at committee meetings, click on the “Meeting Materials” tab on the left side of each committee’s page.
To share feedback on an issue with lawmakers, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. Kentuckians with hearing loss can use Kentucky Relay by dialing 7-1-1.
A Spanish language line for legislative information will be available throughout the General Assembly’s 2023 session by calling 1-866-840-6574.
To directly reach a lawmaker’s office, call 502-564-8100. An operator will transfer the call to the office of the lawmaker you want to reach.
If you have a question about the lawmaking process or legislative resources, the LRC Public Information can be reached by calling 502-564-8100 ext. 59105.