Home » Public Policy: A Session to Remember

Public Policy: A Session to Remember

A bevy of bills passes— some celebrated, some controversial

By Bob Babbage and Rebecca Hartsough 

For a 30-day “short” session, the Kentucky General Assembly ended up crafting many new state policies. Despite guidance from leadership that this session would be smaller in scale and scope, members made serious headway in multiple arenas. More than 900 bills and resolutions were filed, with nearly one in five making it across the finish line.

Here are key highlights from the annual jam-packed session in Frankfort:

Signed into law by the governor: 
SB47: Advocates for medical marijuana celebrated the historic passage after years of effort. The bill lay dormant for much of the session but sped quickly through the tightly scheduled final two days, though not without debate and splits among the majority party. The law will not take effect until 2025; legislators argued lead time was necessary to establish regulatory policy.

HB551: Sports wagering was a major victory for expanded gaming advocates. The bill was unlikely to clear the General Assembly until the last day of session. Many credit its passing to Senate President Robert Stivers’ late-breaking support. Kentuckians can make sports wagers at horse racing tracks and on apps beginning June 29, provided the Racing Commission says, “They’re off!”

HB5: The bill exempting distillers from the bourbon barrel tax was a late session victory for industry players. An amended version offered to quell concerns from local officials still drew criticism and significant debate. It passed on thin margins the last day of the session.

HB594: Legislation banning gray machines across the commonwealth passed but is already in the court system. The issue was the most expensive of the 2023 session, drawing more lobbying dollars than any other. The bill was resurrected by GOP leadership and passed swiftly after partisan infighting threatened to table the measure at one point.

SB162: Juvenile justice reforms have been a hot topic in the news and legislature. The bill provides for increased staffing and training, improved mental health interventions, and enhanced segregation of violent offenders. The restructured system places all eight of Kentucky’s juvenile detention centers under one office with a lead supervisor reporting directly to the commissioner.

HB544: Delta-8 THC, an intoxicating hemp-derivative growing in popularity, will soon be regulated. Including a prohibition sale to those under age 21, the bill has the backing of the hemp industry as well as Gov. Beshear’s prior executive order.

SB94: After years of consensus-building and compromise with the state’s physician community, advanced practice registered nurses secured expanded prescriptive authority. Supporters argue increased APRN scope will improve healthcare access across Kentucky.

HB200: Continued shortages in healthcare workers led to the creation of a public and private healthcare investment fund. Legislators and industry leaders hope the fund will help attract more providers, especially nurses.

HB9: Legislation establishing a framework to match federal grant dollars was celebrated by members on both sides. The GRANT bill supports local governments, nonprofits and coalitions of those entities as they compete for competitive federal funds. It passed without a single “no” vote.

HB319: In an effort to address the state’s teacher shortage, lawmakers approved a bill that establishes an interstate compact to coordinate teacher licensure while also streamlining the current hiring system, requiring teacher exit surveys and allowing interim certification for certain degree holders.

SB268: Drunk drivers responsible for the death of a child’s parent or guardian will be required to pay child support. The legislation has been introduced across several state legislatures in 2023.

Went into effect without the governor’s signature: 
SB4: Public utility providers are now required to ensure grid reliability will not be negatively impacted should they request the retirement of a coal-fired electric generator. The governor let the bill go into law without his signature.

Vetoed by the governor and overridden by the General Assembly: 
SB150: Omnibus legislation championing “parent’s rights” was one of the most controversial bills of the session. Originally introduced to address human sexuality curriculum and First Amendment protections for pronoun usage, the final version included a ban on gender-affirming care for minors and language directing school districts to establish a bathroom policy for transgender students.

SB107: The bill making the hiring of Kentucky’s education commissioner subject to Senate confirmation was delivered to the Secretary of State. Beshear criticized the bill, saying it politicizes the process since the commissioner is currently hired by the Board of Education.

SB126: This bill, permitting a change of venue in civil actions involving the state, was vetoed over constitutional concerns. The bill came as a result of legal battles in the Franklin Circuit Court, whose judge has blocked GOP-led legislation on various constitutional considerations.
Vetoed by the governor and ineligible for override: 
HB135: The bill would have established a regulatory framework for the use of autonomous vehicles. The measure passed with mixed support from lawmakers after the 10-day veto break. Those in favor of the law cited AV technology as a 21st-century standard while opposition voiced concern about safety and job loss. Bill sponsors were hoping to make Kentucky an innovator in the space on top of the recent boom in EV batteries.