Final Days of KY Legislative Session on the Horizon

From LRC Public Information Officer Mike Wynn: 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 158calls 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 measured 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 319seeks 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.