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This Week at the State Capitol

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, (right) receives accolades from Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, as he completes his final day on the Senate floor Monday. Thayer is not running for reelection this year. A high-resolution photo is available here.

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky General Assembly confirmed a new education commissioner and passed a prominent bill on maternal health Monday before the gavel fell for a final time in the 2024 legislative session.

The proceedings capped off a relatively conventional year for the legislature – one that started with a gradual pace but picked up steam in the second half amid a flood of proposed legislation.

Lawmakers filed more than 1,200 bills this year – the highest number in more than two decades – and passed around 215 before the session drew to a close. More than two dozen of those received a vote on the final day.

That included the much-discussed "momnibus" legislation, a comprehensive bill that aims to support maternal and infant health and reduce the high mortality rate for mothers in Kentucky.

The measure will require most health plans to cover pregnancy, child birth and postpartum care along with in-home treatment for substance use disorder. It also calls on most plans to cover labor and delivery costs and all services and supplies related to breastfeeding.

The bill's fate remained uncertain when lawmakers adjourned for the veto recess last month; it was still stuck on the Senate floor with several proposed amendments. However, the legislation was attached to a separate bill on maternal health – Senate Bill 74 – and cleared both chambers Monday without much opposition.

Monday also brought the first confirmation hearing on a state education commissioner. The general assembly passed a law in 2023 that requires appointments to the position to receive Senate approval before assuming the post.

Lawmakers enacted the change amid contention with the previous commissioner, but the new appointment glided through the chamber with high praise. Senators voted 36-1 to confirm Robbie Fletcher, superintendent of Lawrence County Schools, to the job.

Throughout the session, the House and Senate found plenty of issues to debate – education, housing, elections, guns and even the official state rock. Big data and artificial intelligence gained significant attention this year, as did questions over the future of nuclear energy in Kentucky.

Many in the majority party will regard the Safer Kentucky Act as the landmark bill of the session. The omnibus anti-crime bill – House Bill 5 – will ramp up penalties for repeat violent offenders and clamp down on carjacking and street camping among many other provisions.

Others will look to House Bill 2, which proposes to amend the state constitution and allow the general assembly to provide financial support for education outside Kentucky's system of public schools.

But few bills garnered more attention than House Bill 6, the $128 billion budget plan for the state executive branch. It was among several major budget bills that will also fund community projects, transportation and the judicial and legislative branches of government over the next two years.

Other issues that sparked legislation included autonomous vehicles, child protection, horse racing and elections. Here's a final look at some of the most discussed bills from the year:

  • Aerospace Industry: Senate Bill 127 seeks to support Kentucky's aerospace and aviation industries by fostering public-private partnerships and enhancing workforce development across the state. The governor has signed SB 127.
  • Adoption Records: House Bill 87 will allow some family members to inspect adoption records if they are related to someone who was adopted or to the birth parents who gave up a child for adoption. The records can only be inspected after both birth parents or the adoptee have passed away. The governor has signed this legislation.
  • Animal Abuse: House Bill 258 seeks to strengthen state laws against torturing a dog or cat. That includes stiffer penalties for first-time offenders, who could face a class D felony rather than a misdemeanor charge under the bill. HB 258 has been signed by the governor.
  • Autonomous Vehicles: House Bill 7 creates a regulatory framework for operating autonomous vehicles in Kentucky. The governor vetoed this bill, but lawmakers overrode the veto.
  • Breast Exams: House Bill 115 will eliminate co-pays and cost-sharing requirements for high-risk individuals who need follow-up diagnostic imaging to rule out breast cancer. The governor has signed this bill.
  • Cancer Detection: House Bill 52 will require health benefits plans to cover preventive cancer screenings and tests without requiring patients to pay a deductible charge for the services. This measure has been signed by the governor.
  • Capitol Statues: House Bill 513 requires the Historic Properties Advisory Commission to receive approval from the Kentucky General Assembly before adding or removing any statues, monuments or art on permanent display in the Capitol rotunda. The governor vetoed this bill, but the veto was overridden.
  • Child Care Subsidies: Senate Bill 240 clarifies that foster parents who work remotely can receive child care subsidies. The governor has signed this bill.
  • Child Protection: House Bill 278 will ramp up the criminal penalties for offenders who sexually abuse, assault or exploit children. The bill also seeks to prevent people convicted of sex crimes or violent felonies from working in public schools. Another provision in the final bill will require age verification to access adult websites. HB 278 has been signed by the governor.
  • Child Sex Dolls: House Bill 207 creates felony penalties for possessing, trafficking, importing or promoting the use of a child sex doll. It also expands laws against child pornography to include computer-generated images of an identifiable minor. The governor has signed this bill.
  • Civics Education: House Bill 535 calls on the Kentucky Board of Education to create academic standards for civic literacy in high schools. That includes lessons on America's founding, the U.S. Constitution, principles of government and civil liberties, among others. This legislation has been signed by the governor.
  • Consumer Data Protection: House Bill 15 establishes new privacy protections for digital consumers. It will allow consumers to review and correct any data that companies collect on them. Consumers can also refuse to have their data sold and can demand that their data is deleted under the bill. The governor has signed HB 15.
  • Crime Victims: Senate Bill 319 calls for the Crime Victims Compensation Board to make their application process available online, to publish the application in additional languages, and to establish a tracking process for claims. It also clarifies who is eligible to file claims and removes the five-year statute of limitations to file claims. The governor has signed this measure.
  • Cursive Handwriting: Senate Bill 167 calls for elementary schools to teach cursive handwriting and ensure that students are proficient in cursive by the end of the fifth grade. This legislation has been delivered to the governor.
  • Education Funding: House Bill 2 proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow the general assembly to provide financial support for education outside Kentucky's system of public schools. Proposed constitutional amendments do not go to the governor for a signature, but still need ratification by Kentucky voters in an election before taking effect.
  • Emissions Standards: Senate Bill 215 forbids state agencies from adopting or enforcing California's emission standards on motor vehicles. SB 215 became law without the governor's signature.
  • Firearms: House Bill 357 forbids government agencies from creating a list of privately owned firearms – or their owners – unless the information relates to a criminal investigation. The bill also prevents credit card companies from creating unique merchant codes for gun stores. HB 357 became law without the governor's signature.
  • Foster Care: Senate Bill 151 allows family members who take temporary custody of a relative's child to become certified as a "child-specific foster home." That will help them to access more state resources and support. The governor has signed this measure.
  • Gas Stations: House Bill 581 prevents local governments from passing or enforcing rules that treat retail gas stations differently from electric vehicle charging stations. The governor vetoed this legislation, but the veto was overridden.
  • Health Care Background Checks: Senate Bill 145 will allow health care providers enrolled in the Medicaid program to conduct employee background checks through Kentucky's child and adult abuse registries. The governor has signed this bill.
  • Health Care Liability: House Bill 159 protects health care providers from criminal liability when a medical error harms a patient. The bill exempts harm resulting from gross negligence or wanton, willful, malicious or intentional misconduct. The governor has signed HB 159 into law.
  • Horse Racing Commission: Senate Bill 299 will revamp the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to create a fully independent agency called the Kentucky Horse Racing and Gaming Corporation. In addition, the bill will dissolve the state Department of Charitable Gaming next year and place oversight of charitable gaming under the new corporation. The governor vetoed this bill, but lawmakers overrode the veto.
  • Hunting and Fishing Licenses: Senate Bill 5 changes a statute on hunting and fishing licenses for landowners. Prior state law allowed Kentuckians to hunt and fish without a license on their own farmland if the property is at least five acres. However, SB 5 eliminates the acreage requirement. The governor has signed this bill.
  • Juvenile Offenders: Senate Bill 20 seeks to curb youth gun violence. Among several provisions, it clears the way for juveniles to stand trial as adults if they use a firearm in the commission of certain felonies and they are at least 15 years old. SB 20 became law without the governor's signature.
  • Kratom: House Bill 293 aims to regulate kratom, an herbal drug frequently sold online and in convenience stores. The bill prohibits sales to people under 21 and provides guidelines for manufacturing and labeling the product. The governor has signed this measure.
  • Kindergarten Readiness: House Bill 695 will establish an adaptive kindergarten readiness pilot project within the Kentucky Department of Education. The program will offer reading, math and science instruction through an online platform. HB 695 has been signed by the governor.
  • Legislative Vacancies: Under House Bill 622, vacant seats in the U.S. Senate will be filled through a special election rather than an appointment by the governor. The winner of the election will serve for the remainder of the unexpired term. The governor vetoed HB 622, but the veto was overridden.
  • Local Housing Ordinances: House Bill 18 prevents local governments from requiring property owners to accept tenants who use federal housing assistance. The governor vetoed this legislation, but the veto was overridden.
  • Loss of Income Insurance: House Bill 179 clears the way for employers to offer their workers an option to purchase paid family leave insurance. Workers who buy the insurance would receive temporary wage replacement when caring for a sick family member, a new child or other eligible needs. This bill has been signed by the governor.
  • Louisville Metro Government: House Bill 388 includes multiple provisions to revamp certain aspects of Louisville Metro Government. That includes one section that changes elections for the metro council and the mayor from partisan to non-partisan. The governor vetoed HB 388, but lawmakers overrode the veto.
  • Maternal Health: Senate Bill 74 aims to support maternal and infant health and reduce the high mortality rate for mothers in Kentucky. It would require most health plans to cover pregnancy, child birth and postpartum care along with in-home treatment for substance use disorder. It also calls on most plans to cover labor and delivery costs and all services and supplies related to breastfeeding. Another provision aims to provide expectant parents with more data on health care facilities and maternal outcomes across the state. SB 74 has been delivered to the governor.
  • Mathematics Education: House Bill 162 seeks to improve numeracy in Kentucky. It would reform early education math standards and provide more professional development for teachers. The bill would also create multitiered support systems for struggling students. HB 162 has been delivered to the governor.
  • Medicinal Cannabis: House Bill 829 seeks to update some aspects of Kentucky's upcoming medicinal cannabis program. It would allow schools to opt out and allow local governments to apply a small fee to the program, among other changes. The bill has been delivered to the governor.
  • Missing Adults: Senate Bill 45 calls on Kentucky State Police and other state officials to operate a new alert system that helps find missing people over the age of 17. The governor has signed this legislation.
  • Nicotine Products: House Bill 11 would align state law with FDA regulations regarding the sale of tobacco products. Specifically, it would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 21. It would also create penalties for retailers who violate the restrictions. The governor has signed HB 11.
  • Non-Citizen Voting: Senate Bill 143 proposes changes to the state constitution that would prevent anyone who is not a U.S. citizen from voting in Kentucky elections. Proposed amendments do not go to the governor for a signature, but still need ratification by Kentucky voters in an election before taking effect.
  • Nuclear Energy: Senate Bill 198 establishes the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority to support and facilitate the development of a nuclear energy ecosystem across the state. The governor vetoed this bill, but the veto was overridden.
  • Official State Rock: House Bill 378 changes the official state rock from Kentucky agate to coal. It also changes the official mineral from coal to calcite and the official gemstone from the fresh-water pearl to Kentucky agate. The governor has signed HB 378.
  • Pseudoephedrine: House Bill 386 eases purchase limits on pseudoephedrine to help people with chronic allergies legally obtain enough of the medication to meet their needs. HB 386 became law without the governor's signature.
  • Recording Food Operations: Senate Bill 16 forbids people from capturing or distributing unauthorized video, audio or photos from a commercial food manufacturing facility or an animal feeding operation. Violators could face a class B misdemeanor on the first offense and a class A misdemeanor for a subsequent offense. The governor vetoed this bill, but lawmakers overrode the veto.
  • Research Consortiums: Senate Bill 1 creates an endowment fund to support collaborative research consortiums among public universities in Kentucky. Administered by the Council on Postsecondary Education, the program will focus on research projects that seek to improve quality of life through medicine, health and economic development. The governor has signed this legislation.
  • Safer Kentucky Act: House Bill 5 would crack down on repeat, violent offenders. It would also allow prosecutors to file a manslaughter charge against anyone who sells or distributes fentanyl that causes a fatal overdose. Other provisions seek to curb unlawful street camping and set limits on charitable bond organizations. The governor vetoed this bill, but the veto was overridden.
  • School Bus Behavior: House Bill 446 seeks to address disciplinary issues on school buses. Under the bill, every bus rider – and at least one of their parents or guardians – would need to sign a transportation agreement with the district. The agreement would outline expectations for students and parents and explain the consequences for misbehavior. HB 446 has been signed by the governor.
  • School District Task Force: House Concurrent Resolution 81 will establish the Efficient and Effective School District Governance Task Force to study the organizational structures of Jefferson County Public Schools and develop possible recommendations to ensure effectiveness. Lawmakers overrode the governor's veto of this bill.
  • School Notifications: Senate Bill 11 seeks to speed up notifications to schools when a student has been charged with a crime. The governor has signed this bill.
  • Sex Offenders and Social Media: Senate Bill 249 would require sex offenders who have been convicted of abusing a minor to use their legal name on social media platforms. SB 249 has been delivered to the governor.
  • School Safety: Senate Bill 2 seeks to enhance school safety by allowing some veterans and former police officers to serve as school "guardians." It also calls on school districts to assemble trauma-informed teams to improve mental health interventions. SB 2 became law without the governor's signature.
  • Speech Therapy: Senate Bill 111 eliminates some insurance coverage limits on speech therapy for stuttering. The legislation has been signed by the governor.
  • Student Transportation: House Bill 447 calls on the Kentucky Board of Education to update regulations so that school districts can use smaller passenger vehicles instead of buses for transporting students to school and related activities. The governor has signed this legislation.
  • Truancy: House Bill 611 calls for school officials to file a complaint with the county attorney when a student misses 15 days of school without an excuse. For students in elementary school, the parent would be held responsible. This measure became law without the governor's signature.
  • Vaping in Schools: House Bill 142 would ban all tobacco, alternative nicotine and vapor products in Kentucky public schools. It would also require school districts to adopt disciplinary procedures for students who violate the bans. The governor has signed HB 142.
  • Veteran Suicide Prevention: Under House Bill 30, the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs will create a suicide prevention program for service members, veterans and their families. HB 30 has been signed by the governor.
  • Vintage Distilled Spirits: House Bill 439 creates a regulatory and licensing structure for the commercial sale of vintage distilled spirits in Kentucky. It will also allow some confiscated alcohol to be auctioned – instead of destroyed – with proceeds benefiting alcohol wellness efforts. The governor has signed this bill.
  • Window Tinting: Senate Bill 46 allows windshield tinting on vehicles as long as at least 70% of light can still pass through the material. The governor has signed this legislation.
  • Youth Employment Programs: Senate Bill 128 allows non-profit organizations to employ 12- and 13-year-olds for the purpose of learning life and employment skills. To participate, organizations would need to first receive approval from the state Department of Workplace Standards, and the work could not exceed 18 hours a week. SB 128 became law without the governor's signature.
  • Youth Medical Records: House Bill 174 stipulates that parents have access to their child's medical records. Right now, children ages 13 and older must sign a waiver for parents to have access. This legislation became law without the governor's signature.

Lawmakers will return to Frankfort in June for the interim period, when they can hold committee hearings on issues and consider proposals for the 2025 legislative session.

Kentuckians can continue to track the action through the general assembly webpage, which will provide a weekly calendar of committee meetings during the interim period. 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.


Senate confirms new state education commissioner

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, speaks Monday on the Senate floor prior to the confirmation of Dr. Robbie Fletcher as Kentucky's new education commissioner. A high-resolution photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — During the last day of the 2024 Regular Session, the Senate voted 36-1 to confirm Dr. Robbie Fletcher as Kentucky's next education commissioner.

Selected by the Kentucky Board of Education, Fletcher was introduced to members of the Senate Education Committee during a hearing on his appointment last week. The Senate confirmation process is mandated under Senate Bill 107, which lawmakers passed last year.

Fletcher, superintendent of Lawrence County Schools, has also been a classroom teacher, assistant principal and principal. He was introduced on the Senate floor Monday by Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville.

"I first met Dr. Fletcher approximately five years ago when I was elected to this position and have had multiple dealings with him since that time," he said. "What I have been impressed with all during that while is his continued commitment towards the children of Kentucky schools."

Wheeler said Fletcher has performed his duties with steadfast diligence and with the guidance of his Christian faith. He said Fletcher is not someone who will "fall back" from a challenge.

"I am proud that he is both a Kentuckian as well as an Eastern Kentuckian," Wheeler said.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, also spoke in favor of the confirmation. He said Fletcher did a great job during the education committee meeting.

"We had a full Senate hearing and numerous questions. I believe he may be the Mark Pope of Kentucky education. He knows the program, and he will be returning to the program. And he's been a lifelong Kentuckian and I'm glad to see a Kentuckian as commissioner," West said.

Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who sponsored SB 107, said he was pleased with how the confirmation process advanced.

"I'm very pleased that the board members came over and met with us and talked to us and got our thoughts and ideas and continually reached out to us to work with us. I see a new day in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and this process has been great," he said.


This Week at the State Capitol

Legislators gather on the House floor ahead of Friday's proceedings on day 59 of the 60-day session. A high-resolution photo is available here.

FRANKFORT — Lawmakers overrode vetoes on two dozen measures Friday as the Kentucky General Assembly reconvened in Frankfort for the penultimate day of the 2024 legislative session.

It was the first time the House and Senate have gaveled into session since the chambers adjourned in March for a two-week veto recess. The recess provides time for the governor to sign bills, allow them to become law without his signature or issue vetoes.

Of the more than 160 measures that cleared the chambers last month, the governor vetoed 20 and issued line-item vetoes to several more related to budgeting in state government.

However, lawmakers had little trouble overriding those actions as proceedings unfolded throughout the day.

House Bill 5, known as the Safer Kentucky Act, was one of only a few that drew much debate during votes on the chamber floors.

The legislation will enhance penalties for repeat, violent offenders. It will also allow prosecutors to file a manslaughter charge against anyone who sells or distributes fentanyl that causes a fatal overdose.

Other provisions seek to curb unlawful street camping, set limits on charitable bond organizations and crack down on carjacking.

Lawmakers overrode the veto on HB 5 despite continued objections that it will harm homeless population s and increase incarceration costs.

Supporters have argued, however, that the bill is needed to address increasing crime in Kentucky, especially murders.

The House and Senate also defeated the governor's line-item vetoes on the budget bills. Those include a $128 billion executive branch budget and other measures related to the legislative branch, the state transportation cabinet and one-time expenditures.

Another major override focused on House Bill 7, a much-debated bill that creates a regulatory framework for operating autonomous vehicles in Kentucky.

Here's a look at some of the other bills that were subject to a veto override before lawmakers adjourned for the weekend.

  • Capitol Statues: House Bill 513 requires the Historic Properties Advisory Commission to receive approval from the Kentucky General Assembly before adding or removing any statues, monuments or art on permanent display in the Capitol rotunda.
  • Gas Stations: House Bill 581 prevents local governments from passing or enforcing rules that treat retail gas stations differently from electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Horse Racing Commission: Senate Bill 299 revamps the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to create a fully independent agency called the Kentucky Horse Racing and Gaming Corporation. In addition, the bill will dissolve the state Department of Charitable Gaming next year and place oversight of charitable gaming under the new corporation.
  • Legislative Vacancies: Under House Bill 622, vacant seats in the U.S. Senate will be filled through a special election rather than an appointment by the governor. The winner of the election will serve for the remainder of the unexpired term.
  • Louisville Metro Government: House Bill 388 includes multiple provisions to revamp certain aspects of Louisville Metro Government. That includes one section that changes elections for the metro council and the mayor from partisan to non-partisan.
  • Nuclear Energy: Senate Bill 198 establishes the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority to support and facilitate the development of a nuclear energy ecosystem across the state.
  • Recording Food Operations: Senate Bill 16 forbids people from capturing or distributing unauthorized video, audio or photos from a commercial food manufacturing facility or an animal feeding operation. Violators could face a class B misdemeanor on the first offense and a class A misdemeanor for a subsequent offense.
  • School District Task Force: House Concurrent Resolution 81 will establish the Efficient and Effective School District Governance Task Force to study the organizational structures of Jefferson County Public Schools and develop possible recommendations to ensure effectiveness.

Lawmakers as scheduled to return Monday for the final day of the 60-day legislation session.

Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to read bills and follow their progression through the chambers. Capitol observers can also track budget bills on the 2024 Budget Bills webpage.

In addition, citizens can share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly's toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.


This Week at the State Capitol

Lawmakers passed more than 160 bills before gaveling out Thursday for a veto recess. A high-resolution photo is available here.

FRANKFORT — More than 160 bills earned a final tap of the gavel this week, including a new state budget and an omnibus crime bill, as lawmakers worked late into the night to clear a trove of legislation off the House and Senate floors.

Friday marked the beginning of the 10-day veto recess, and lawmakers were keen to wrap up as many bills as possible before adjourning for the break. That led to four days of fast-paced action in committee and several marathon floor proceedings that resolved just before midnight on Thursday.

A slate of budget bills has hung heavy over the agenda this year, but the House and Senate reached a deal on a $128 billion plan for the state executive branch before gaveling out.

Supporters say it will provide historic investments in education, public safety, economic development and other key priorities over the next two years. But critics argue that the plan should have channeled more funds to public schools and to improve conditions in juvenile justice.

Along with the executive branch budget, lawmakers also reached an accord on a nearly $3 billion plan to fund one-time investments in infrastructure and community projects. That package relies on money from the state's budget reserve trust fund.

Separate budget bills for the state road plan and the legislative and judicial branches are also headed to the governor.

Another priority measure for majority lawmakers – the Safer Kentucky Act – won final passage in the House on Thursday following an impassioned debate over public safety, incarceration costs and the appropriate response to homeless camps.

The legislation, House Bill 5, would crack down on repeat, violent offenders. It would also allow prosecutors to file a manslaughter charge against anyone who sells or distributes fentanyl that causes a fatal overdose. Other provisions seek to curb unlawful street camping and set limits on charitable bond organizations.

The House and Senate also came together on Senate Bill 2, a much-discussed measure that seeks to enhance school safety by allowing some veterans and former police officers to serve as school "guardians." It also calls on school districts to assemble trauma-informed teams to improve mental health interventions.

SB 2 won a final nod in both chambers Thursday and has been delivered to the governor.

The Senate ended the week with an intense debate over House Bill 7, which stalled on the Senate calendar two weeks ago. The bill would create a regulatory framework for operating autonomous vehicles on public highways in Kentucky.

Senators voted 20-18 on final passage after opponents raised safety concerns about how driverless vehicles would perform on roadways, particularly in challenging conditions.

Proponents argued that that technology has proven safer than human drivers and will set the stage for more innovation in Kentucky. The bill was delivered to the governor on Thursday.

Among the scores of other bills that received final passage this week were key measures on medical records for minors, truancy, youth gun violence, child abuse and consumer data. Here's a look at some of the bills that cleared a final vote:

  • Aerospace Industry: Senate Bill 127 seeks to support Kentucky's aerospace and aviation industries by fostering public-private partnerships and enhancing workforce development across the state.
  • Adoption Records: House Bill 87 would allow some family members to inspect adoption records if they are related to someone who was adopted or to the birth parents who gave up a child for adoption. The records could only be inspected after both birth parents or the adoptee have passed away.
  • Animal Abuse: House Bill 258 seeks to strengthen state laws against torturing a dog or cat. That includes stiffer penalties for first-time offenders, who would face a class D felony rather than a misdemeanor charge under the bill.
  • Breast Exams: House Bill 115 seeks to eliminate co-pays and cost-sharing requirements for high-risk individuals who need follow-up diagnostic imaging to rule out breast cancer.
  • Cancer Detection: House Bill 52 would require health benefits plans to cover preventive cancer screenings and tests without requiring patients to pay a deductible charge for the services.
  • Child Care Subsidies: Senate Bill 240 would clarify that foster parents who work remotely can receive child care subsidies.
  • Child Protection: House Bill 278 would ramp up the criminal penalties for offenders who sexually abuse, assault or exploit children. The bill also seeks to prevent people convicted of sex crimes or violent felonies from working in public schools. Another provision in the final bill would require age verification to access adult websites.
  • Child Sex Dolls: House Bill 207 would create felony penalties for possessing, trafficking, importing or promoting the use of a child sex doll. It would also expand laws against child pornography to include computer-generated images of an identifiable minor.
  • Civics Education: House Bill 535 calls on the Kentucky Board of Education to create academic standards for civic literacy in high schools. That would include lessons on America's founding, the U.S. Constitution, principles of government and civil liberties, among others.
  • Consumer Data Protection: House Bill 15 would establish new privacy protections for digital consumers. It would allow consumers to review and correct any data that companies collect on them. Consumers could also refuse to have their data sold, and they could demand that their data is deleted.
  • Crime Victims: Senate Bill 319 calls for the Crime Victims Compensation Board to make their application process available online, to publish the application in additional languages, and to establish a tracking process for claims. It also clarifies that those eligible to file claims include spouses, siblings, personal representatives, and primary caregivers to the victims of crime. Among other provisions, it also would remove the five-year statute of limitations to file claims.
  • Emissions Standards: Senate Bill 215 would forbid state agencies from adopting or enforcing California's emission standards on motor vehicles.
  • Firearms: House Bill 357 would forbid government agencies from creating a list of privately owned firearms – or their owners – unless the information relates to a criminal investigation. The bill also aims to prevent credit card companies from creating unique merchant codes for gun stores.
  • Foster Care: Senate Bill 151 would allow family members who take temporary custody of a relative's child to become certified as a "child-specific foster home." That would allow them to access more state resources and support.
  • Health Care Background Checks: Senate Bill 145 would allow health care providers enrolled in the Medicaid program to conduct employee background checks through Kentucky's child and adult abuse registries.
  • Health Care Liability: House Bill 159 protects health care providers from criminal liability when a medical error harms a patient. The bill exempts harm resulting from gross negligence or wanton, willful, malicious or intentional misconduct. The governor has signed HB 159 into law.
  • Horse Racing Commission: Senate Bill 299 would revamp the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to create a fully independent agency called the Kentucky Horse Racing and Gaming Corporation.
  • Juvenile Offenders: Senate Bill 20 seeks to curb youth gun violence. Among several provisions, it clears the way for juveniles to stand trial as adults if they use a firearm in the commission of certain felonies and they are at least 15 years old.
  • Kratom: House Bill 293 aims to regulate kratom, an herbal drug frequently sold online and in convenience stores. The bill would prohibit sales to people under 21 and provide guidelines for manufacturing and labeling the product.
  • Kindergarten Readiness: House Bill 695 would establish an adaptive kindergarten readiness pilot project within the Kentucky Department of Education. The program will offer reading, math and science instruction through an online platform.
  • Legislative Vacancies: Under House Bill 622, vacant seats in the U.S. Senate would be filled through a special election rather than an appointment by the governor. The winner of the election would serve for the remainder of the term.
  • Loss of Income Insurance: House Bill 179 would clear the way for employers to offer their workers an option to purchase paid family leave insurance. Workers who buy the insurance would receive temporary wage replacement when caring for a sick family member, a new child or other eligible needs.
  • Missing Adults: Senate Bill 45 calls on Kentucky State Police and other state officials to operate a new alert system that helps find missing people over the age of 17.
  • Official State Rock: House Bill 378 changes the official state rock from Kentucky agate to coal. It also changes the official mineral from coal to calcite and the official gemstone from the fresh-water pearl to Kentucky agate.
  • Pseudoephedrine: House Bill 386 would ease purchase limits on pseudoephedrine to help people with chronic allergies legally obtain enough of the medication to meet their needs.
  • Research Consortiums: Senate Bill 1 would create an endowment fund to support collaborative research consortiums among public universities in Kentucky. Administered by the Council on Postsecondary Education, the program would focus on research projects that seek to improve quality of life through medicine, health and economic development.
  • School District Task Force: House Concurrent Resolution 81 would establish the Efficient and Effective School District Governance Task Force to study the organizational structures of Jefferson County Public Schools and develop possible recommendations to ensure effectiveness.
  • School Notifications: Senate Bill 11 seeks to speed up notifications to schools when a student has been charged with a crime.
  • Speech Therapy: Senate Bill 111 would eliminate some insurance coverage limits on speech therapy for stuttering.
  • Student Transportation: House Bill 447 calls on the Kentucky Board of Education to update regulations so that school districts can use smaller passenger vehicles instead of buses for transporting students to school and related activities.
  • Truancy: House Bill 611 calls for school officials to file a complaint with the county attorney when a student misses 15 days of school without an excuse. For students in elementary school, the parent would be held responsible.
  • Veteran Suicide Prevention: House Bill 30 calls on the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs to create a suicide prevention program for service members, veterans and their families.
  • Vintage Distilled Spirits: House Bill 439 would create a regulatory and licensing structure for the commercial sale of vintage distilled spirits in Kentucky. It would also allow some confiscated alcohol to be auctioned – instead of destroyed – with proceeds benefiting alcohol wellness efforts.
  • Window Tinting: Senate Bill 46 would allow windshield tinting on vehicles as long as at least 70% of light can still pass through the material.
  • Youth Employment Programs: Senate Bill 128 would allow non-profit organizations to employ 12- and 13-year-olds for the purpose of learning life and employment skills. To participate, organizations would need to first receive approval from the state Department of Workplace Standards, and the work could not exceed 18 hours a week.
  • Youth Medical Records: House Bill 174 would stipulate that parents have access to their child's medical records. Right now, children ages 13 and older must sign a waiver for parents to have access.

The governor has 10 days to take action on bills that have passed the general assembly He can sign measures into law, allow them to become law without his signature, or issue vetoes. The governor also authority to veto line items in the budget.

However, lawmakers have reserved two days to reconvene in April, when they can override vetoes and continue passing bills. The chambers are scheduled to gavel back in on April 12 for day 59 of the 60-day session and adjourn sine die on April 15.

Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to read bills and follow their progression through the chambers. Capitol observers can also track budget bills on the 2024 Budget Bills webpage.

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.


Kentucky General Assembly passes biennial budget

Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, speaks on House Bill 6 – the executive branch budget for the next biennium – on the House floor on Thursday. A high-res version is available here.

FRANKFORT — FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 28, 2024) — After many weeks of number-crunching and deliberation, the Kentucky General Assembly sent the biennial budget to the governor's desk Thursday afternoon.

House Bill 6 allocates more than $128 billion toward the operation of the executive branch for the next two fiscal years. The Kentucky Senate gave final passage to the measure Wednesday by a 36-1 vote. The House approved the measure Thursday by a 72-26 vote.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, spoke highly of the spending plan.

"This is solid budget," he said. "It is the best budget that has been proposed or passed by the general assembly."

On the House floor, Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, said HB 6 addresses the continuing expenses of the commonwealth while making key investments in education, public safety, state pensions and more.

"I think this is a good product that will deal with the ongoing, recurring costs and services of the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Petrie said.

Among the provisions, HB 6:

  • Increases the funding formula for schools, known as SEEK, to $4,326 per pupil in fiscal year 2025 and $4,586 in fiscal year 2026.
  • Increases funding for school safety by allocating more than $34 million toward a school resource officer reimbursement program and $2 million in each fiscal year to the Center for School Safety.
  • Fully funds and meets actuarial requirements for each state pension plan.
  • Appropriates $7.3 million in each fiscal year for a new Student Teacher Stipend Program.
  • Funds 45 new staff positions in the Office of Unemployment Insurance and 100 new social worker positions.
  • Provides millions for child care and foster care-related programs, including $19 million over the next biennium toward kinship care reimbursement.
  • Allocates an increase of $548.1 million toward Medicaid benefits
  • Increases funding by $20 million in fiscal year 2026 to support medical and mental health care at all juvenile justice facilities.
  • Includes $7.8 million toward alternative detention programming for juvenile offenders.
  • Allocates millions toward clean water and broadband initiatives.
  • Gives state employees a 3% raise in each fiscal year.

Lawmakers in both chambers debated the appropriations for schools and juvenile justice along with spending caps for when the executive branch responds to natural disasters.

On the House floor on Thursday, Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, said the budget does not invest enough in K-12 public schools, early childhood education or child care. She also said she would have liked to see a one-time bonus check for retirees, more funding for housing and more.

"This budget does have a lot of good stuff in it … it is still not good enough," Raymond said.

In explaining his "yes" vote on HB 6, Rep. Timmy Truett, R-McKee, said he's spoken to several superintendents who had positive things to say about the provisions for education.

"They're very excited that with these significant increases that they're going to be able to maintain their staff and also give some sort of a raise," Truett said.

In the Senate on Wednesday, Senate Minority Whip David Yates, D- Louisville, said budgeting involves intense work, but it's the most important thing lawmakers do in the general assembly.

"It is not everything that we all want," he said of the bill. "But I think that we have done tremendous work and improvements. This came over to us, and piece by piece, it got better and better. I think that's from the open dialogue."

HB 6 was not the only budget-related bill that was sent to the governor's desk on Thursday.

The legislative budget, judicial branch budget and transportation cabinet budget – House Bills 263, 264, and 265 – also advanced from both chambers on Thursday.

The general assembly also passed House Bill 1, which makes historic, one-time investments in infrastructure and special projects by allocating nearly $3 billion from the budget reserve trust fund.

The governor has 10 days to sign, veto or let the legislation become law without his signature. The governor can also implement line-item vetoes in the budget.


Senate debates, advances medical records access bill

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, speaks on House Bill 174, which relates to patient medical records. A high-resolution photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 27, 2024) — During a busy Wednesday near the end of the legislative session, the Kentucky Senate advanced a bill to ensure that parents have access to medical records of their children who are under the age of 18.

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, presented House Bill 174 on the chamber floor and said it's about parental rights. It passed with a 28-7 vote.

"This bill is about access to the medical records of minor children by their personal representative. I've heard the argument of HIPAA gives us all the access, but ultimately, if one reads all the HIPAA forms, they find that often these decisions are left up to the states or even sometimes these decisions are left up to the treating physician," he said.

Douglas said previous legislation has put up barriers for parents. He read a passage from current state law that grants physicians the ability to treat certain medical conditions affecting a minor patient without the consent of a parent or guardian.

Douglas said children who are at least 16 years old can receive mental health treatment without the consent of a parent, and this is "wrong."

"House Bill 174 simply says that the personal representative – that means the individual who has the authority under law to make health care decisions for that minor child. So, I have the right to access the patient's health information maintained by a health care provider in a medical record," he said.

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, spoke against the measure. She said that, under federal law, parents can already access most of their children's health records and that state law includes a few additional protections for children.

The areas Chambers Armstrong cited include reproductive health care, mental health care and cases of possible child abuse suspected by a medical provider.

"In these circumstances, a child is allowed to consent to their own medical treatment without the permission of a parent, for good reason. It would not make sense for a child who is being abused to have to seek the consent of that parent in order to get treatment for injuries related to that abuse," she said.

Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, also spoke against the bill. Over the weekend, Berg said she spoke with several pediatricians in her district. She asked them how the measure would affect their practices.

"Every pediatrician I asked about this bill told me that under no circumstances would they follow it, that they felt that this was a huge break in physician-patient confidentiality around certain singular issues that growing teenagers sometimes desire and sometimes need confidentiality from their parents," she said.

Douglas countered that if medical providers suspect abuse, they are obligated to call the police.

"Our purpose in our job as a physician and as physician health care providers is to provide opinions and treatment. Not to rear our children," Douglas said. "That's not our job. We don't have that power."

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, voted for the measure, and said children are under the authority of their parents.

Another supporter, Sen. Michael J. Nemes, R-Shepherdsville, said he hasn't heard from any doctors about the bill but has heard from many parents who want it.

He said he wanted to remind health care providers that he goes to them for professional advice. "I do not go to you to raise my child or to tell me what to do."

HB 174 now heads back to the House.


Senate passes COVID-19 vaccine bill

Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield, speaks on the Senate floor Tuesday on Senate Bill 295, which would prohibit COVID-19 vaccines from being required in many cases in Kentucky. A high-resolution photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Senate advanced an amended bill Tuesday that would prohibit COVID-19 vaccines from being required for employment, professional licenses, receiving medical treatment or student enrollment and activities.

Senate Bill 295's sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield, said the release of the vaccine ushered in an unprecedented overreach of the government by requiring a "novel medical product to be forced on people just to participate in society."

The measure won approval with a 25-11 vote and now heads to the House. One legislator abstained from voting.

"In 2020, our world, as we all recall, was turned upside down based off projections that indeed have been proven to be grossly inflated. Out of an abundance of caution, we closed our schools, shut down businesses – many of them permanently – we changed our election processes…" Tichenor said.

She said the bill underscores individual liberties even in the face of public health challenges, and its passage would set a precedence and standard on those personal liberties.

Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, voted against the measure and argued that vaccine exemptions already exist in Kentucky. She said all legislators should understand the importance behind public health measures.

"Nobody who has a serious medical contraindication or a true religious contradiction to vaccination has been forced to take a vaccine in this state. It hasn't happened, and it won't happen. We have those exemptions in our books," she said.

She said she's concerned about what the viral disease might look like in the future – from two years or even 10 years from now.

"To say under no circumstances can we require even health care professionals, it is a danger to our patients if we go in there with communicable diseases. We cannot do that to them," she said.

Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, also spoke against the bill. He said his family's business doesn't require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but he has concerns about the hospital and nursing home in his community.

"When we say any COVID-19 vaccine, the literal reading of that means any known today and any known in the future," he said. "Those employees caring for my great aunt at the nursing home or one of my family members in the hospital are not going to be required to be vaccinated if they choose to not be upon passage of this legislation."

He also said he didn't see any provisions in the bill to provide any shield of liability for nursing home owners.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said SB 295 is "truly about personal freedom" and argued that medical professionals should be trusted to make the decision for themselves.

But Senate Minority Whip David Yates, D-Louisville, said the bill would prevent small business owners, with eight or more employees, from making any mandate at their local businesses.

"Now, I believe in individual freedom…If I don't want a vaccination, I'm not going to. But if I'm the employer and I want to say this is what I think is reasonable in my employment, we're saying even the employer can't do that in this bill," he said.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, voted for the measure and said time teaches a lot of lessons. He said the COVID-19 vaccine was issued through an emergency authorization and was not fully tested under normal FDA protocols.

"Each individual should be able to make their own personal decision whether or not to use the COVID vaccine," he said. "If they feel good about it, fine. If they feel that it's safe for them, that's fine. But they should not have to give up their job. They should not have to give up their mortgage payment. They should not have to give up food on their table in order to protect their privately held views on whether or not to take the vaccine."


House passes freestanding birthing center bill

House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Middletown, speaks on House Bill 199 on the House floor Tuesday. The bill would remove barriers for freestanding birthing centers in Kentucky. A high-res version is available here.

FRANKFORT — A bipartisan bill that would pave the way for freestanding birthing centers to operate in Kentucky received House approval Tuesday.

House Bill 199 would regulate freestanding birthing centers and exempt ones with no more than four beds from the certificate of need requirement.

Primary sponsor House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Middletown, said Kentucky would join 43 other states in safely regulating and permitting the operation of freestanding birthing centers.

"This is another safe alternative for a mother having a baby at a hospital or at home," he said.

A floor amendment filed by Nemes and adopted by the House addresses some of the safety concerns from healthcare stakeholders, Nemes said.

Under the amended HB 199, freestanding birthing centers would be required to be insured and have a physician or licensed advanced practice registered nurse serve as a clinical director. The bill would also require the centers to be located within 30 miles of a hospital and enter into a transfer agreement with a hospital.

Additionally, the floor amendment requires the centers to obtain written, informed consent from each patient, Nemes said.

HB 199 co-sponsor Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, spoke on the legislation alongside Nemes. She said 73 out of Kentucky's 120 counties do not have an OBGYN. Allowing freestanding birthing centers should help lower Kentucky's high maternal mortality rate, she said.

"Freestanding birthing centers utilizing midwifery-led care are an important tool in improving maternal health outcomes for both mother and infant and in reducing health outcome disparities," Willner added.

Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, asked Nemes how HB 199 ensures the safety of freestanding birthing centers.

Since not every mother would be a good candidate for a freestanding birthing center, Nemes said the clinical director would be charged with making that determination. Only low-risk, healthy pregnancies would qualify. The centers would transfer a patient – whether that be a mother or a baby – to a nearby, local hospital if needed, he added.

King said she does not support HB 199 due to safety concerns.

"One-third of home births end up in emergency transport to a hospital … If we really care about the health and safety of mom – keeping her healthy and the healthy birth of a baby – I will speak against this type of situation all the time," King said.

The House approved HB 199 by a 69-25 vote.

House Minority Caucus Chair Cherlynn Stevenson, D-Lexington, and Rep. Courtney Gilbert, R-Hodgenville, shared why they voted "yes" on the bill on the House floor.

Stevenson said "a lot of good work" has gone into HB 199.

"I do believe that (freestanding birthing centers) will be safe, and ultimately I believe women should have a choice in all their health care decisions, she said.

Gilbert said she thinks HB 199 is "a wonderful opportunity" for people in the profession and mothers.

"I am happy to give my support to this bill today. I, myself, am the product of a home birth," she added.

HB 199 now goes before the Senate for consideration.


Senate Education Committee green lights truancy bill

Rep. Jared Bauman, R-Louisville, testifies Tuesday on truancy-related House Bill 611 during a meeting of the Senate Education Committee. A high-resolution photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — In an effort to curb truancy and chronic absenteeism in Kentucky's schools, legislators on the Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced House Bill 611 during a meeting on Tuesday.

The primary sponsors of the bill, Rep. Jared Bauman, R-Louisville; and Rep. Timmy Truett, R-McKee, testified that truancy is a huge problem now, and they had to act through legislation. They are both House Education Committee members.

"As I learned in the education committee that we all sat on over the interim, we have a significant issue in our state with truancy and chronic absenteeism in our schools," Bauman said. "The district that I represent is at 38%, and I'm sad to report that there are 40 districts in our state that have higher rates than that even, with 13 districts over 50%."

House Bill 611 would allow for cases to be referred to county attorneys after a student has missed 15 unexcused days of school.

Bauman explained that schools are budgeting based on enrollment, even though they are funded based on attendance.

"We have to take action, more so for the students though than the funding. We have to ensure that kids are in school where they need to be during the school year, setting them up for success in life and that's simply not happening today," he said.

Truett, an elementary school principal, said the bill is a start to improve the situation in the commonwealth. It calls for an extension of diversion time, and this can be helpful in some cases. Students in diversion can only miss four additional unexcused days, he said.

"We're extending that diversion time from six months to 12 months. So we're watching this student for 12 months as opposed to just six. Because what's happening, they may be good for six months, get out of the diversion, go back to normal and what's happening is they're going right back in six months later," Truett said.

Senate Democratic Floor Leader Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, asked about the possible fiscal impact of the measure.

Bauman answered that he did not confer with state officials about this, but he would do this if Neal thinks it's a best practice.

Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, said she learned how truancy is a critical issue in Kentucky during the interim, and she asked about the efficacy of Family Accountability, Intervention and Response Teams (FAIR).

Truett said FAIR Teams currently meet with students of all ages and their parents. They try to resolve the issues and attempt to get to the root of the problem, he said.

"Obviously, if the FAIR Team was working in every district, we would not need this bill. Some districts, the FAIR Team works well. Some districts, they do not," Truett said. "So, what this bill will do is, it does something that we don't have currently. It will allow for consistency across the state."

Truett said the bill calls for parents of students in K-5 grades to be held accountable, and for students in higher grades, FAIR Teams would work with them and their parents.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said the bill is a good one, but it's important to remember that underlying problems need to be addressed, such as poverty, unemployment and dysfunctional families.

"I think to be fair, and to do it right, we've got to acknowledge that those ills exist in the community as well and that school district as well, and that's the real driver behind such high truancy rates," he said.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, asked Bauman to speak on districts with high percentages of truant students, and called the situation, "a serious crisis." West is also chair of the committee.

"These kids are not in school with their peers, learning, socializing, where they should be as children so they can become the next generation of Kentuckians that are going to be contributing to our society," Bauman said. "They need to be in school. This helps us identify those children and get them into the classroom where they need to be."


House committee advances school guardian, mental health bill

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, speaks on Senate Bill 2 – a sweeping school safety measure – before the House Education Committee on Tuesday. A high-res version is available here.

FRANKFORT — A bill that would allow a public-school guardian program and seeks to improve the mental health of students is one step closer to final passage.

The House Education Committee approved Senate Bill 2 on Tuesday. Primary sponsor Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the legislation builds on school safety measures from previous years.

"A lot of times we talk about mental health, but we can't wrap our hands around what actually is occurring right now within our school walls," Wise said.

SB 2 would direct schools to include school psychologists, social workers, school resource officers (SROs) and other mental health service providers on trauma-informed teams. This is in addition to school administrators, counselors, family resource and youth service coordinators, school nurses and other district personnel, Wise said.

The bill would direct the trauma-informed teams to help support students impacted by trauma, identify ways to respond to mental health issues, and build resiliency and wellness in all students. These teams would also be required to compile an annual report.

SB 2 would also require two evidence-based suicide prevention lessons each school year for all students in sixth through 12th grade. Teachers would also be required to undergo suicide prevention training beginning at the fourth-grade level.

As for the safety aspect of the legislation, SB 2 would allow school districts to employ retired law enforcement and honorably discharged, retired military veterans as armed guardians at public schools.

The bill is not a mandate, and the guardians would not have arresting authority, Wise said. The guardians would also have to be within five years of retirement and undergo a vetting and training process.

Committee chair James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said he worked with Wise on strengthening the qualified immunity provision in the legislation. The guardians would have the same criminal and civil immunity as other law enforcement in the state. School boards would also be protected.

During discussion of SB 2, Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, proposed a committee amendment to allow schools to add a licensed pastoral counselor to the trauma-informed team. He said with the statewide shortage of counselors and psychologists, this would give schools another option.

Wise told the committee he has "no qualms" about the amendment. "We've got young people that need assistance and help," he said.

Abby Piper, a representative of the Kentucky School Counselors Association, testified against the amendment. But she said she supports the other mental health provisions in the legislation.

Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, made a motion to table the amendment. She said she finds the amendment "gravely concerning." Her motion failed.

The committee approved Calloway's committee amendment to SB 2.

Rep. Emily Callaway, R-Louisville, said she's in favor of Calloway's amendment.

"I really appreciate this and an opportunity to keep our kids safe and to get to some of the root of our issues and concerns for our kiddos," she said. "I'm a very strong ‘yes.'"

After approving Calloway's amendment, the committee continued to discuss the legislation.

Bojanowski asked Wise why schools need guardians when there are SROs. Wise said the guardians are for districts who don't have enough SROs or are in rural areas.

"The guardians are a stop-gap measure," Wise said.

The House Education Committee approved SB 2 by a 14-3 vote.

Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said while she supports the mental health care portions of the legislation, she has concerns with the guardians and the pastoral counselor provisions of the bill.

"I'm very emotional about voting ‘no' on this because there's so much good in it," Willner said. "We've doubled up on the suicide prevention training. That's going to save lives. There's no question, so I'm happy that piece is going to pass."

SB 2 now goes before the full House for consideration.


Senate committee unanimously advances teacher misconduct bill

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, speaks Thursday during the Senate Education Committee meeting regarding House Bill 275, which would strengthen investigations involving school district employee misconduct. A high-res version is available here.

FRANKFORT — The Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced a bill Thursday that would strengthen investigations into misconduct among school employees.

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 275 and chair of the House Education Committee. He said the legislation focuses on a few key components.

The bill would require school districts to complete investigations into employee misconduct even if the employee resigns. It would also prevent schools from entering into a non-disclosure agreement with an employee who is subject to an investigation.

Another provision calls on school job applicants to disclose whether they were subject to an allegation or investigation for abusive conduct in the prior 12 months.

"I want to begin by saying that 99.9% of our teachers and school employees across the commonwealth – we're not talking about them," Tipton said. "But unfortunately, we have some bad actors who are in society and who are in the school system."

Tipton said the bill would allow records of investigations to be removed from an employee's personnel file if the allegations are determined to be false.

During the meeting, Kotomi Yokokura, a student at the University of Kentucky, testified in favor of the measure and shared her experiences as a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of a high school teacher.

Yokokura said she was a teenager when a teacher created a private group chat with her and her friends. It was a texting platform utilized by her high school to update assignments and other important information.

She said her teacher gained her trust and emotionally manipulated her.

"It wasn't until talking with college friends that I began to fully understand the gravity of my experience and the betrayal of an individual I trusted, my community trusted," she said. "Now I'm sitting before you just one month away from my graduation from UK, but my experience of educator sexual misconduct almost stole this from me."

Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, asked about coaches, who may not always be considered employees. She asked if the bill would cover coaches who may be volunteers.

"As I've reviewed the language, I believe that it would," Tipton said.

Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, asked Tipton about the bill's language. He said he wants to make sure it would apply to noncertified personnel. Tipton answered affirmatively.

Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield, asked if sexual misconduct and grooming could be better defined in the legislation. Tipton said an existing law references those situations, but he's always open to make legislation the best it can be.

Tichenor reiterated that "this is not directed toward the majority of our teachers. But we have to ensure that our students are safe and protected from the small number of teachers that may prey on our students."


House committee approves bill on juvenile firearm-related crimes

Sen. Matthew Deneen, R-Elizabethtown, presents Senate Bill 20 before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. A high-res version is available here.

FRANKFORT — Juveniles accused of committing certain felonies while using a firearm could be tried as adults under Senate Bill 20.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced the measure Wednesday. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Matthew Deneen, R-Elizabethtown.

Deneen said SB 20 addresses an unfortunate situation in the commonwealth: youth gun violence. Deneen cited several recent incidences of shootings involving teens, including one in Louisville from over the weekend.

"Our kids are using guns to settle their disputes," Deneen said. "In many cases, they're using guns that are illegally obtained through carjackings and sometimes even with the help of an adult."

With current statute, Deneen said many juveniles are allowed "to go into jail and walk right back out before our policemen even have time to finish the paperwork." SB 20 would change that, he said.

"It takes our most heinous crimes – A, B and C felonies involving the use of a gun – and it transfers those to circuit court," Deneen said.

The original version of SB 20 contained provisions that were included in House Bill 5, which passed off the Senate floor last week. SB 20 was amended in the House Judiciary Committee to remove those redundant provisions, Committee Chair Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, said.

The new version of SB 20 only focuses on juvenile felony offenses involving firearms.

Under SB 20, the circuit court could use a reverse waiver to send cases back to district court. The requirements for the waiver involve reviewing 10 factors already established in statute. If the offender doesn't meet at least two of those factors, the case can be sent back to district court, Elliott said.

The new version of SB 20 also ensures only children who used a firearm are implicated, Deneen and Elliott said.

Deneen said this bill would hold violent juveniles accountable and prevent them from creating more victims.

"This is not a perpetrator-centered bill. This is a victim-centered bill," Deneen said. "We owe it to those families that have been wounded that are now in wheelchairs because of gun violence committed by other juveniles."

During discussion, Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, said she agrees that gun violence is a major issue that needs to be addressed. However, she does not believe SB 20 will help, and she advocated for more prevention measures.

"There has been over 100 JCPS students who have been shot – some killed, some just wounded – and we need to do something," Herron said. "However, some of you all know I think the approach is the wrong approach."

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, thanked Deneen for the bill and said seeing the increase in youth gun violence tells her the legislature needs to do more. She asked Deneen if there is an opportunity to hold more parents accountable when they allow children to have access to or do not properly secure firearms.

Deneen said he agrees adults should be held accountable, but SB 20 only focuses on juvenile gun-related cases.

As for the fiscal impact of SB 20, Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, said she has concerns.

"My concern is the capacity and the bandwidth to actually implement this if we don't have that money being allocated in the budget for it," she said.

Deneen said there is a cost associated with the bill, but the cost of not moving forward with SB 20 is greater when lives and the well-being of Kentuckians is at stake.

Rep. Lindsey Burke, D-Lexington, said she also has concerns about the fiscal impact of SB 20. She made a motion to table the bill until an updated corrections impact statement can be drafted. The motion failed.

Rep. Patrick Flannery, R-Olive Hill, said he "proudly supports" SB 20 and believes it will keep Kentuckians safer.

"When you have serious violent offenders that are locked up, that keeps them off the streets and keeps them from doing this to our family members, our loved ones, our neighbors, people that we care about or people that we may not even know," he said.

The House Judiciary Committee approved SB 20 by a 12-4 vote. It now goes before the full House for consideration.


Adult-oriented businesses regulation bill moves forward

Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield, speaks on Senate Bill 147 before the House Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee on Tuesday. A high-resolution photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — A bill that would set regulations for adult-oriented businesses advanced from the House Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee on Tuesday.

Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield, is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 147. She said the bill seeks to protect children from sexually explicit materials and performances.

"The bill defines adult-oriented businesses to mean an adult arcade, adult bookstore or video store, adult cabaret, adult theater or any establishment that predominately hosts any performance involving sexual conduct," Tichenor said.

The commonwealth has a history of regulating all sorts of businesses, like real estate, horse racing and alcohol, Tichenor said.

"The intent of this bill is to set regulations around an unchecked industry to ensure we are protecting communities and minors within those communities from the exposure that leads to adverse, secondary effects," she added.

Under SB 147, adult-oriented businesses would not be permitted within 933 feet – the length of the average city block – of a childcare facility, a children's establishment, park, recreational area, place of worship, schools, libraries, and any area where children predominately gather. These businesses would also not be allowed to employ anyone under 18 and would be responsible for preventing obscene material from being accessed by minors.

Violators would face civil penalties, Tichenor said. Enforcement of the new regulations would fall under the attorney general's office, a commonwealth's attorney's office or a county attorney's office. A previous version of the legislation allowed citizens to bring civil action. Tichenor said that provision has been removed.

A grandfather clause was also added to the legislation for already established adult-oriented businesses that would allow them to continue to operate even if they're in violation of the bill, Tichenor added.

During discussion, House Minority Whip Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, asked Tichenor how the bill limits drag queen appearances and performances at restaurants and libraries.

Tichenor said the bill only prohibits performances with nudity and/or sexual conduct as defined in the legislation.

Roberts said she feels the bill targets certain groups of people, and she is "incredibly disappointed" when the legislature "tries to legislate morality."

Rep. Bill Wesley, R-Ravenna, however, spoke in support of SB 147.

"The reason I'm voting ‘yes' today: it puts up guardrails for our children," he said.

Rep. Stephanie Dietz, R-Edgewood, said she can support SB 147 due to some of the changes Tichenor made to the bill. Dietz said she trusts the county attorney and commonwealth's attorney in her diverse district to know what types of performances should and should not be permitted.

"I have to trust that my officials that are being elected by those citizens are going to enforce this the way that it's intended to be," she said.

The committee approved SB 147 by a 16-2 vote. It will now go before the full House for consideration.


This Week at the State Capitol

The Kentucky House wrapped up day 52 of the 2024 legislation session on Friday, which included a four-hour debate on a bill related to college diversity, equity, and inclusion policies. A high-resolution photo is available here.

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House and Senate are squaring up for a robust end to the 2024 legislation session, moving major bills on crime, school choice and diversity initiatives with only two weeks to go before the veto recess.

Perhaps the most watched bill of the session – the biennial state budget – is also making headway after the Senate unveiled its version of the plan this week. The $130 billion proposal breezed through committee and cleared the Senate floor on Wednesday with near unanimous support.

A conference committee is set to begin negotiating a compromise between the House and Senate in the coming days. The House passed its proposal Feb. 1, and the Senate version includes key changes, including additional money for Kentucky's school funding formula known as SEEK.

The Senate also proposes to increase performance funding for higher education and jails and provide additional funds to pay down bonds related to the KentuckyWired project.

Lawmakers will need to hammer out an accord by March 28 if they want time to override any gubernatorial vetoes before the general assembly adjourns sine die next month.

Friday marked day 52 of the 60-day session, and lawmakers have revised the legislative calendar to provide two extra days next week for committee meetings. That foreshadows a busy schedule ahead as members continue to grapple with a number of preeminent bills.

One measure moving close to final passage is House Bill 5, an omnibus anti-crime bill that would enhance penalties for some felonies – especially for repeat, violent offenders.

Called the Safer Kentucky Act, the legislation would also allow prosecutors to file a manslaughter charge against anyone who sells or distributes fentanyl that causes a fatal overdose. Other provisions seek to curb unlawful street camping and set limits on charitable bond organizations.

HB 5 cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and, after a long debate, won approval on the Senate floor Friday 27-9. It now goes back to the House for a vote on the Senate's changes.

Meanwhile, a measure on diversity, equity and inclusion on college campuses has won support in the House and now moves back to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Bill 6 calls for an end to DEI initiatives at Kentucky colleges and universities. The far-ranging bill would forbid differential treatment of individuals based on protected classes like race and sex. It would also prohibit campuses for expending resources on DEI trainings and offices, among many other provisions.

The House amended the legislation in committee Thursday, expanding significantly on the Senate's version, which focused more specifically on viewpoint discrimination. Lawmakers voted 68-18 on the House floor after a nearly four-hour debate, and the bill now goes back to the Senate for consideration.

Another major bill related to education, House Bill 2, received final passage in the Senate following several long debates throughout the week. That included a two- and half-hour exchange on the House floor Wednesday and another hour-long match in the Senate on Friday that preceded a 27-8 vote.

The legislation proposes to amend the state constitution and allow the general assembly to provide financial support for education outside Kentucky's system of public schools. That would allow the legislature to consider funding other types of educational models in future years.

Like all proposed amendments to the constitution, the changes would require ratification by Kentucky voters in an election before taking effect.

Many other bills continued to receive votes this week as they moved through the legislative process. Here's a look at some of the other measures on the move:

  • School Bus Cameras: House Bill 461 would allow school districts to install cameras on the side of school buses to catch motorists who fail to stop when the stop-arm is deployed. Offenders would face a $500 fine for the first offense and a $1,000 fine for a subsequent offense. The bill won support on the House floor Monday.
  • Nicotine Products: House Bill 11 would align state law with FDA regulations regarding the sale of tobacco products. Specifically, it would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 21. It would also create penalties for retailers who violate the restrictions. The House passed the bill Monday.
  • Legislative Interference: Under House Bill 626, people who engage in disorderly conduct that prevents the Kentucky General Assembly from conducting business could be charged with a class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a class D felony for a subsequent offense. The legislation cleared the House on Monday.
  • Civics Education: House Bill 535 calls on the Kentucky Board of Education to create academic standards for civic literacy in high schools. That would include lessons on America's founding, the U.S. Constitution, principles of government and civil liberties, among others. The House advanced the measure Monday.
  • Consumer Data Privacy: House Bill 15 would establish new privacy protections for digital consumers. It would allow consumers to review and correct any data that companies collect on them. Consumers could also refuse to have their data sold, and they could demand that their data is deleted. The Senate voted in favor on HB 15 on Monday.
  • Kindergarten Readiness: House Bill 695 would establish an adaptive kindergarten readiness pilot project within the Kentucky Department of Education. The program will offer reading, math and science instruction through an online platform. The bill advanced out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
  • Missing Adults: Senate Bill 45 calls on Kentucky State Police and other state officials to operate a new alert system that helps find missing people over the age of 17. The House Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection passed the legislation Tuesday.
  • Aerospace Industry: Senate Bill 127 seeks to support Kentucky's aerospace and aviation industries by fostering public-private partnerships and enhancing workforce development across the state. The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee advanced the bill Tuesday.
  • Cancer Detection: House Bill 52 calls for health benefits plans to cover preventive cancer screenings and tests without requiring patients to pay a deductible charge for the services. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee advanced the bill on Tuesday.
  • Open Records: House Bill 509 calls for public employees to use official agency email accounts when conducting official business, and it would ban the use of private email accounts for such matters. Agencies would only be required to search official email accounts in response to an open records request. The bill cleared the House floor Tuesday.
  • Medicinal Cannabis: House Bill 829 seeks to update some aspects of Kentucky's upcoming medicinal cannabis program. It would allow schools to opt out and allow local governments to apply a small fee to the program, among other changes. The House passed the measure Tuesday.
  • Name, Voice and Likeness: Senate Bill 317 would protect every person's name, voice and likeness from the commercial use of unauthorized deepfakes. The Senate passed the measure Tuesday.
  • Pseudoephedrine: House Bill 386 would ease purchase limits on pseudoephedrine to help people with chronic allergies legally obtain enough of the medication to meet their needs. The measure won support in the Senate Committee on Health Services on Wednesday.
  • Speech Therapy: Senate Bill 111 would eliminate some insurance coverage limits on speech therapy for stuttering. The House Banking and Insurance Committee passed the legislation Wednesday.
  • Firearms: House Bill 357 would forbid government agencies from creating a list of privately owned firearms – or their owners – unless the information relates to a criminal investigation. The bill also aims to prevent credit card companies from creating unique merchant codes for purchases from gun stores. The Senate passed the legislation Wednesday, and it has been sent to the governor.
  • School Bus Behavior: House Bill 446 seeks to address disciplinary issues on school buses. Under the bill, every bus rider and at least one of their parents or guardians would need to sign a transportation agreement with the district. The agreement would outline expectations for students and parents and explain the consequences for misbehavior. The bill won passage in the Senate on Wednesday and has been sent to the governor.
  • Nuclear Energy: Senate Bill 198 would establish the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority to support and facilitate the development of a nuclear energy ecosystem across the state. The House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy passed the legislation Thursday.
  • Animal Abuse: House Bill 258 seeks to strengthen state laws against torturing a dog or cat. That includes stiffer penalties for first-time offenders, who would face a class D felony rather than a misdemeanor charge under the bill. The legislation won support in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
  • Math Education: House Bill 162 seeks to improve numeracy in Kentucky. It would reform early education math standards and provide more professional development for teachers. The bill would also create multitiered support systems for struggling students. The Senate Education Committee passed the bill Thursday.
  • Consent for Intimate Exams: House Bill 252 would require physicians to receive informed consent before conducting intimate exams – such as rectal, pelvic or prostate exams – on an unconscious patient. The House Health Services Committee advanced the bill Thursday.
  • Non-Citizen Voting: Senate Bill 143 proposes changes to the state constitution that would prevent anyone who is not a U.S. citizen from voting in Kentucky elections. The House passed the bill Friday.
  • Fish and Wildlife: Senate Bill 3 seeks to move the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife from the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. An amendment to the bill would also move the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to the agriculture department for administrative purposes. The legislation cleared the Senate on Friday.
  • Vintage Alcohol Sales: House Bill 439 would create a regulatory and licensing structure for the commercial sale of vintage distilled spirits in Kentucky. The Senate passed the bill Friday.

Lawmakers are expected to meet in committees on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. However, the chambers will not gavel back into session until Thursday for day 53. The veto recess begins on March 29.

Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to read bills and follow their progression through the chambers. Capitol observers can also track budget bills on the 2024 Budget Bills webpage.

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.