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Ky. lawmakers are back in session. Here’s what’s on tap

Ryland Barton
Kentucky Capitol Building

Kentucky lawmakers returned to Frankfort on Tuesday after a break in this year's legislative session.

The day began with Republican lawmakers questioning education officials about teacher vacancies.

The Black Legislative Caucus held a Black History celebration in the Capitol Rotunda, with Gov. Andy Beshear and other legislators present.

Rep. Pamela Stevenson, a Democrat from Louisville running for attorney general this year, spoke during the event, saying "the legacy of racism is still manifest in our day-to-day living.”

“The fight for economic justice is just as important now as it was years ago. The impact of this racism on our racism–all communities, not just Black communities–is still felt today. No matter what we’re going through, we get to celebrate,” she said.

During the remainder of the legislative session, lawmakers will consider a wide range of bills.

Leaders of the Republican-led legislature already advanced a proposal that would cut the state income tax, despite concerns that the move will hobble the state’s ability to generate revenue, especially during a recession.

The income tax dropped from 5% to 4.5% this year already and under House Bill 1, the rate would be reduced to 4% beginning in 2024. Republicans have signaled they plan to eliminate the income tax altogether in the future. The bill will get a hearing in the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee on Wednesday.

Advocates hope this will be the year for several bipartisan measures like the proposal to legalize cannabis for medical purposes and expand all-day kindergarten.

So far, much of the energy during this year's legislative session has been over potential reforms to the state's troubled juvenile justice system.

GOP lawmakers have also proposed a variety of proposals that would allow people to carry guns in schools,limit trans people's rights and ban TikTok from state devices.

Here are some of the bills and issues that will come up during this year’s session, which ends on March 30.

Juvenile Justice reform 

During the first week of session, the state Senate unanimously approved creation of a workgroup to investigate violence and dangerous working conditionsin Kentucky’s juvenile detention centers.

Lawmakers in the workgroup announced a list of recommendations to the Beshear administration that included a complete overhaul of the Department of Juvenile Justice and an independent investigation into the agency.

Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher said he has been in discussions with Louisville Metro government to open a new youth detention facility in Jefferson County.

Bratcher said he plans to file a bill setting aside $8.9 million to retrofit a building to house a detention center for young people. The bill has not been filed yet.


Republican Rep. Savannah Maddox, of Dry Ridge, introduced House Bill 138, which would repeal gun-free zones in local government buildings, colleges and K-12 schools.

The proposal does not forbid teachers and school staff from carrying firearms inside classrooms, but it would prevent 18-year-old students from legally carrying inside their schools.

Maddox also introduced another measure which would drop the age to get a concealed carry permit from 21 to 18.

Republican Sen. Adrienne Southworth, of Lawrenceburg, filed a similar proposal, Senate Bill31.

Anti-trans legislation

Republican Rep. Bill Wesley from Ravenna pre-filed two bills ahead of the 2023 session that would limit the rights of transgender people.

House Bill 30 seeks to ban transgender people from using school bathrooms of their gender identity. According to the proposal, a transgender student would need written permission from their parents to use different facilities. And if a student were to run into "a person of the opposite biological sex" in a facility, parents could sue the school.

Wesley’s other proposal would prevent doctors from identifying the sex of a child as any identity other than male or female, though there is currently no sex identity marker other than male and female in any government document in Kentucky. The bill hasn’t yet been filed during the regular session.

Banning TikTok on state devices

During the first week of the legislative session, Republican Rep. Scott Sharp from Ashland filed House Bill 124, which would prohibit the download or use of TikTok on any state government-issued devices or networks and would go into effect immediately upon passage. This would not apply to personal devices.

Last month, Gov. Beshear’s administration banned TikTok on state government devices and accounts Thursday as concerns grew over the app’s risk to national security.

Medical Cannabis 

Advocates for legalizing medical cannabis hope they’ll get lucky this year with two bills filed in the House. Rep. Rachel Roberts of Newport introduced House Bill 22, which would create a control board to help administer the cultivation, sale, taxation and licensing of marijuana.

House Bill 47 filed by Rep. Nima Kulkarni of Louisville would decriminalize marijuana for personal use up to one ounce.

The conservative state Senate has long been wary of the measure.

Beshear signed an executive order in 2022 allowing Kentuckians to possess cannabis purchased in other states as long as they have approval from a doctor.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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