Week in Review at the State Capitol

The following This Week at the State Capitol review is produced by the Legislative Research Commission 

As sure as gavel strikes mark the start of a Kentucky General Assembly session, packed hallways in the Capitol Annex are a sign that a session has gone into high gear as people from across Kentucky converge to make their voices heard. 

That was clearly the case this past week as thousands of Kentuckians came to the Capitol Campus to weigh in on issues ranging from voter identification to school safety. With a total of 60 working days in this year’s session, a lot of activity is being packed into a short amount of time as lawmakers study and cast votes on hundreds of issues. Things will get even busier next week when Gov. Andy Beshear presents his state budget proposal and lawmakers begin the work of crafting the spending plan into one they think best serves the state.

Measures that took steps forward in the legislative process this past week include the following:

“Born alive” act. Senate Bill 9 would require that no infant born alive – including one that survives a failed abortion attempt – be denied appropriate medical care. Violation of the proposed law could result in the revocation of a medical provider’s license and felony charges. The bill was approved by the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee on Thursday and now goes to the full Senate for consideration. 

Mental health. House Bill 153 would allow the state to establish a mental health first aid training program. The program 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 certified trainers certified in mental health first aid training. The measure passed the House 93-o on Thursday and has been sent to the Senate. 

Pets. House Bill 27 would designate cats and dogs from Kentucky’s animal shelters or rescue organizations as the official pets of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The measure was approved by the House on a 90-2 vote on Wednesday and now goes to the Senate for consideration.  

School safety. Senate Bill 8 would add to a major school safety measure passed into law last year. This year’s bill would clarify the definition of a school resource officer to allow a school superintendent to specify any individual to serve as a district’s school safety coordinator, clarify which school facilities are required to have school resource officers and to require that the officers be armed. The legislation also specifies a goal of having at least one school counselor per public school and at least one school counselor, or school-based mental health services provider, for every 250 students. The bill was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Sex offenders. House Bill 204 would prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet from a publicly leased playground. They also wouldn’t be allowed to enter the playgrounds without written permission from the person or body responsible for the playgrounds. Sex offenders must already follow these standards for publicly owned playgrounds. The legislation passed the House Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee on Wednesday and now awaits action from the full House.  

Voter identification. Senate Bill 2 would impose stricter voter identification requirements by calling on Kentuckians to show photo identification before casting votes. Voters without a photo ID could still cast a ballot after showing a non-photo ID card, such as a social security card or a credit card, and affirming, under penalty of perjury, that they are eligible to vote. A voter with no ID whatsoever would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot that would be counted after the voter goes to the county clerk’s office soon after the election and shows an appropriate ID or fills out an affidavit explaining the reason for not having an ID. Senate Bill 2 would also make photo ID cards available to people without driver’s licenses free of charge. The bill passed the Senate 29-9 on Thursday and has been sent to the House for consideration.   

Youth smoking and vaping. Senate Bill 56 would specify in state law that anyone under 21 years old is not allowed to possess tobacco products and vaping products. This would place state law in line with recently approved federal law regarding youth smoking and vaping. Under Senate Bill 56, officers could confiscate such products from people not old enough to use them and retailers could be fined for selling the products to youth. The legislation passed the Senate on Thursday on a 28-10 vote and has been delivered to the House. 

People are encouraged to share their thoughts with lawmakers on the issues under consideration by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.