FRANKFORT, Ky. — Every legislative session develops a unique personality. COVID-19 shaped the character of the 154th regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly that ended today.
The worldwide pandemic prompted the legislature, an institution steeped in tradition, to make changes to usual procedures. Lawmakers went from considering drafts of a two-year state budget to instead passing an austere one-year spending plan, an acknowledgment of the difficulties of making long-term revenue projections amid the economic turmoil of a pandemic. COVID-19 relief bills were quickly drafted and acted upon during the latter part the session.
Efforts to promote social distancing left the marble corridors of the 109-year-old Capitol quieter than usual for a budget session. Broadcast coverage of the session was expanded after the general public was restricted from visiting the Capitol. House members were allowed to cast votes while not in the chamber. Ultimately, the legislators gaveled into session for only 53 days — seven days less than allowed by the Kentucky Constitution.
The $11.3 billion executive branch budget, however, will keep steady the basic per-pupil funding for Kentucky schools and support safety measures envisioned when lawmakers approved a major school safety bill last year. The spending plan, contained in House Bill 352, also provides the full actuarial-recommended level of funding for state public pension systems.
A COVID-19 relief measure, contained in Senate Bill 150, will loosen requirements for unemployment benefits and extend help to self-employed workers and others who would otherwise not be eligible.
It will also expand telemedicine options by allowing out-of-state providers to accept Kentucky patients, provide immunity for health care workers who render care or treatment in good faith during the current state of emergency, extend the state’s income tax filing deadline to July 15, address open meeting laws by allowing meetings to take place utilizing live audio or live video teleconferencing, and require the governor to declare in writing the date that the state of emergency ends.
Additional bills that the General Assembly approved include measures on the following topics:
Addiction treatment: Senate Bill 191 addresses certification and educational requirements for alcohol and drug counselors. The bill also directs Kentucky to establish guidelines employers can use to develop programs to help more individuals struggling with substance use disorders while maintaining employment.
Alcohol: House Bill 415 will allow distillers, wineries and breweries to be licensed to ship directly to consumers — in and out of Kentucky. The bill imposes shipping limits of 10 liters of distilled spirits, 10 cases of wine and 10 cases of malt beverages per month. Packages of alcohol will have to be clearly labeled and be signed for by someone 21 or older. HB 415 will also prohibit shipping to dry territories, communities where alcohol sales are prohibited by local laws.
Eating disorders: Senate Bill 82 will establish the Kentucky Eating Disorder Council. The group will oversee the development and implementation of eating disorder awareness, education, prevention and research programs.
Elections: Senate Bill 2, dubbed the voter photo ID bill, will require voters to present photographic identification at the polls, starting in the general election in November. If a voter does not have a photo ID, they will be able to show another form of ID and affirm, under the penalty of perjury, that they are qualified to vote. The bill also allows poll workers to vouch for a voter they personally know even if that person has no valid ID. Another provision of SB 2 will provide a free state-issued ID card for individuals who are at least 18 and do not have a valid driver’s license. It currently costs $30 for that ID.
Hemp: House Bill 236 will conform Kentucky’s hemp laws to federal guidelines that changed after the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. That bill removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances, which allowed farmers across the nation to grow hemp legally. The bill also expands the number of labs authorized to test hemp for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive component found in hemp and other types of cannabis.
Human rights: House Bill 2 will require a national anti-human trafficking hotline number to be advertised in airports, truck stops, train stations and bus stations. Posters with the hotline number are currently required in rest areas. The bill also closes a loophole in the state sex offender registry by adding specific human trafficking offenses to the definition of a sex crime.
Senate Bill 72 will ban female genital mutilation, often referred to as FGM, in Kentucky. A federal ban that had been in place for more than two decades was found unconstitutional in 2018. The bill will also make performing FGMs on minors a felony, ban trafficking of girls across state lines for FGMs and strip the licenses of medical providers convicted of the practice. The World Health Organization classifies FGM, a procedure that intentionally alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, a human rights violation.
Infrastructure protection. House Bill 44 will strengthen security for critical infrastructure across Kentucky by specifying that above-ground natural gas and petroleum pipelines in addition to certain cable television facilities aren’t suitable areas for drone flights. The legislation also defines tampering with the assets as felony criminal mischief.
Jurors: Senate Bill 132 will add people with state-issued personal identification cards to the pool of potential jurors in the county where they live. Currently, the pool draws from driver’s license lists, tax rolls and voter registration lists.
Lt. Governor: House Bill 336 will let gubernatorial candidates select their running mate for lieutenant governor before the second Tuesday in August instead of during the spring primary campaign.
Marsy’s Law: Senate Bill 15 would enshrine certain rights for crime victims in the state constitution. Those would include the right to be notified of all court proceedings, reasonable protection from the accused, timely notice of a release or escape, and the right to full restitution. SB 15 is tied to a national movement to pass statutes that have been collectively known as Marsy’s law in honor of Marsy Nicholas, a 21-year-old California college student who was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend. A similar proposed constitutional amendment passed the General Assembly in 2018 and was subsequently approved by voters, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the law was invalid due to unconstitutional ballot language.
Now that it has been approved by lawmakers, Kentucky voters will decide on the proposed constitutional amendment this November.
Mental health: House Bill 153 will establish the Kentucky Mental Health First Aid Training Program. The plan would be aimed at training professionals and members of the public to identify and assist people with mental health or substance abuse problems. The program would also promote access to trainers certified in mental health first aid training.
Senate Bill 122 will make a change to Tim’s Law of 2017, a much-heralded law that has rarely been used by the courts. The law allowed judges to order assisted outpatient treatment for people who had been involuntarily hospitalized at least twice in the past 12 months. SB 122 extends the period to 24 months.
Mobile phones: House Bill 208 will require wireless providers of Lifeline federal-assistance telephone service to make monthly 911 service fee payments to the state. It will restore over $1 million a year in funding to 911 service centers.
Pensions: House Bill 484 separates the administration of the County Employees’ Retirement System (CERS) from the Kentucky Retirement Systems’ board of trustees. CERS accounts for 76 percent of the pension assets KRS manages and makes up 64 percent of the KRS membership — but controls only 35 percent of the seats on the KRS board.
Public health: House Bill 129, dubbed the public health transformation bill, will modernize public health policy and funding in Kentucky. It will do this by streamlining local health departments by getting them to refocus on their statutory duties. Those are population health, enforcement of regulations, emergency preparedness and communicable disease control.
REAL ID: House Bill 453 will allow the transportation cabinet to establish regional offices for issuing driver’s licenses and personal identification cards. It also requires a mobile unit to visit every county multiple times per year to issue such credentials. It will ensure Kentucky complies with the federal REAL ID ACT enacted on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation.
School safety: Senate Bill 8 will require school resource officers (SROs) to be armed with a gun. The measure also clarifies various other provisions of the School Safety and Resiliency Act concerning SROs and mental health professionals in schools.
Sex offenders: House Bill 204 will prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a publicly leased playground. Sex offenders must already follow these standards for publicly owned parks.
Students’ wellbeing: Senate Bill 42 will require student IDs for middle school, high school and college students to list contacts for national crisis hotlines specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide.
Taxes: Senate Bill 5 will require library boards, and other so-called special-purpose governmental entities, to get approval from a county fiscal court or city council before increasing taxes.
Terms of constitutional offices. House Bill 405 proposes a constitutional amendment that would increase the term of office for commonwealth’s attorneys from six years to eight years beginning in 2030 and increase the term of office for district judges from four years to eight years beginning in 2022. It would also increase the experience requirement to be a district judge from two years to eight years.
The proposal is seen as a way to align terms of service among elected judicial officials so judicial redistricting could be more easily achieved in future sessions. And redistricting is seen as a way to balance uneven caseloads among courts without creating expensive new judgeships.
The proposed constitutional amendment will be decided on by voters this November.
Tobacco: Senate Bill 56 will raise the age to purchase tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, to 21 from 18. The move will bring Kentucky’s statute in line with a new federal law raising the age to 21. The bill will remove status offenses for youth who purchase, use or possess tobacco, often called PUP laws, and will shift penalties to retailers who fail to follow the increased age restriction.
Veterans: House Bill 24 will support plans to build a veterans nursing home in Bowling Green. The legislation appropriates $2.5 million needed to complete design and preconstruction work for the 90-bed facility. That must be completed before federal funding is allocated to start construction on the proposed $30 million facility.
Most new laws — those that come from legislation that doesn’t contain emergency clauses or special effective dates — will go into effect in mid-July. Proposed constitutional amendments must be ratified by voters in November before they would take effect.