FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Over 230 bills turn into laws Thursday as a result of the Kentucky General Assembly's legislative session.
The state's constitution says new laws will take effect 90 days after adjournment, so July 14 acts as the effective date for most of the new laws. In a news release on Friday, July 8, Sen. Denise Harper Angel said there are exceptions for laws that have special effective dates or are general appropriation measures.
Some bills also had emergency clauses that put them into immediate effect, such as requirements for teachers on how to handle race and history discussions. Other bills with emergency clauses, including the anti-abortion bill that bans the mailing of abortion medication, have been temporarily blocked.
The new legislation deals with a variety of issues, including criminal justice, education and public safety, and transgender student athletes. Here is a breakdown of which laws were passed and how they affect citizens across the Commonwealth.
Anti-SLAPP bill: House Bill 222 seeks to protect freedom of speech. “SLAPP” is an acronym for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation." A SLAPP lawsuit alleges defamation against people who criticize public individuals and entities through acts of censorship and intimidation.
This bill offers protection for those exercising their First Amendment rights in speaking out against a matter of public interest from SLAPP lawsuits.
Charter schools: House Bill 9 establishes a public funding model for charter schools. In 2017, Kentucky legalized charter schools but lawmakers didn't set up a permanent funding stream. Originally, charter schools are run by private groups but funded with taxpayer dollars. This bill allows charter schools to receive a mix of local and state tax money like traditional public schools.
It authorizes two pilot charter school projects in Louisville and Northern Kentucky and changes the appeals process if education officials deny an application for a new charter school, too.
It also brought a lot of controversies.
On one side, Rep. Chad McCoy, who sponsored the bill, said students who don't do well in traditional public schools and cannot afford private school need charter schools. “My hope is, if we run a pilot project ... that will show the rest of the state there’s nothing to be afraid of,” said McCoy.
Opponents of the bill said it would divert the already low funds for traditional public schools. Nema Brewer with KY 120 United-AFT, a local chapter of a national teachers' union, said, "We're barely getting by."
For more on the debate, LEX 18 has the full story here.
Child abuse: House Bill 263 increases penalties for criminal abuse if the victim is under 12 years of age. It is also known as Kami's Law. Originated from Oldham County 7th-grader Kiera Dunk, who created the bill using what she learned from the Kentucky Youth Assembly (KYA), it will protect victims like her best friend, Kami.
Kami faces continuous physical and mental challenges after her mother's boyfriend at the time, Paul Raque, attacked her. However, Raque served less than five years in prison.
Dunk wanted to prevent what happened to Kami for all Kentucky families.
Criminal abuse if the victim is under 12 years of age will now classify as a Class B felony.
Child fatalities: Senate Bill 97 requires law enforcement to request a blood, breath, or urine test from parents and caregivers suspected of being under the influence at the time of a child's suspicious death. If consent is not given, this bill gives law enforcement the power to request a search warrant.
The bill, too, requires coroners to immediately notify law enforcement, the Department for Community Based Services, and the local health department after learning of the child's death. Also, the number of members on the External Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Panel has increased from 15 to 17.
Crimes during emergencies: Senate Bill 179 amplifies penalties for crimes committed during a declared emergency, no matter if it is natural or man-made.
Crimes include assault, burglary, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, theft, receiving stolen property, and robbery.
Criminal justice reform: Senate Bill 90 calls for pilot programs in at least 10 Kentucky counties to begin Oct. 1 and continue for four years to "provide eligible individuals an alternative to receive treatment for a behavioral health disorder instead of incarceration."
Upon the completion of the program (which includes drug treatment and vocational services), the charges of some low-level offenders will be diverted or dismissed.
Death penalty: House Bill 269 disqualifies offenders with serious mental illness from the death penalty.
If symptoms were occurring at the time of the offense, this applies to offenders with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, or delusional disorder.
Due process: House Bill 290 calls on state colleges and universities to adopt a student code of conduct for when a student allegedly does something that leads to suspension or expulsion from a university. Also called the Kentucky Campus Due Process Protection Act, it increases student rights with due process protections (fair treatment through the normal judicial system).
The public universities included in this bill are the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, and Western Kentucky University.
Education: Senate Bill 1 appoints local superintendents to lead the selection of appropriate educational curricula and materials for local schools.
It also includes language from the Teaching American Principles Act, which will require instruction in social studies to align with a list of core concepts and documents that supporters say are central to American civics. This was included to dictate how teachers discuss race and U.S. history in the classroom.
Fentanyl: House Bill 215 requires those convicted of trafficking fentanyl, carfentanil, or fentanyl derivatives to serve at least 85% of their criminal sentences, up from the current 50%. It is known as Dalton's Law, named after Dalton Bishop, who died from ingesting fentanyl in November of 2020.
It also makes importing those drugs from another state or country a Class C felony and deems offenders ineligible for a pretrial diversion, meaning they cannot undergo alternative sentencing options.
First responders: Senate Bill 64 aims to protect the confidentiality of first responders who participate in peer support counseling programs.
Sen. Mike Wilson sponsored the bill after the Kentucky tornadoes from December killed 17 in his home city.
"The trauma they faced while helping strangers in their darkest hour highlights something most of us cannot begin to appreciate fully," he said. “Senate Bill 64 will help those who are there for us in our most traumatic moments.”
Supporters say it will benefit thousands of public safety workers who frequently experience trauma on the job. Those opposed say the bill could face repercussions from frank discussions in counseling.
Imagination Library: Senate Bill 164 establishes the Imagination Library of Kentucky Program.
Founded by Country music legend Dolly Parton, this international literacy program provides free books monthly to children from birth to age five. The state will provide 50% of the funds. The rest of the funding will be shared by Parton and other community partners.
Incest: Senate Bill 38 classifies incest as a violent offense.
Acting as an amendment to the current law, it also ensures that individuals guilty of incest complete at least 80% of their prison sentence.
Libraries: Senate Bill 167 requires public libraries to get additional approvalbefore spending more than $1 million.
Libraries service many in the community by providing access to computers, creative spaces, genealogy, and developmental learning. Russell County library and Kentucky Public Library Association leader Lindsey Westerfield says the bill could have further-reaching effects, like the censorship of books, particularly ones that have topics surrounding gender, race, and social action.
Rep. Patti Minter also showed concern. "What this bill does is not only allows public libraries assets to be sold off to private or other public entities without any concern for what the people in that county want - but it also allows for library boards to become politicized," she said.
A sponsor of the bill, Sen. Phillip Wheeler disagreed and said if you have to tax someone, "and there's over 20 counties in the commonwealth where the library tax is higher than the county tax, that you should be subject to the will of the voters."
Westerfield said this new legislation is set to take effect on Jan.1, 2023.
Pari-mutuel wagering: House Bill 607 increases taxes for every pari-mutuel wager, or mutuel wager, at a standard 1.5% rate.
This includes advance-deposit wagers and bets on simulcasts. It also directs more money to the general fund, makes the Kentucky Racing Commission responsible for self-funding, creates a self-exclusion list for problem gamblers, and eliminates the track admissions tax.
Peace officer certifications: House Bill 206 prevents peace officer certification for sexual assault offenders.
Anyone convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense or severe misdemeanors, including assault of any kind against a minor, cannot serve as a peace officer. Those certified as peace officers are appointed to preserve law and order, like sheriffs and police officers.
Porch pirates: Senate Bill 23 classifies theft of mail matter, or the destruction of packages, as a felony.
The goal is to crack down on people who steal packages off front porches, often referred to as porch pirates. It applies to mail from common carriers and delivery services such as Amazon or FedEx.
Public assistance: House Bill 7 aims to impose new requirements on public benefits. In order to keep the benefits, individuals have to prove they are working, volunteering, or doing community service to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
“The only way you can lose benefits is if you’re doing something illegal or (you're) able-bodied with no dependents at home,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado.
The bill also creates tougher penalties for those improperly using food assistance.
Religious services: House Bill 43 excludes houses of worship from emergency shutdowns from the government.
Primary sponsor Rep. Shane Baker said the goal is to make sure churches and other houses of worship are treated the same as other essential businesses if the Commonwealth were to face another crisis that warrants the shutdown of nonessential businesses.
The bill would also allow a religious organization to take action against a local or state emergency order if it feels the order is discriminatory. This includes seeking an injunction or compensatory damages for tangible and intangible losses.
School board meetings: House Bill 121 requires a public comment period of at least 15 minutes at local school board meetings unless no one is signed up to speak. It also requires that any board rules and policies regarding conduct apply during the comment period.
The bill comes in response to heated discussions at school board meetings over COVID-19 alleviation and “critical race theory” policies.
School breakfasts: Senate Bill 151 requires schools in the Federal School Breakfast Program to offer students up to 15 minutes to eat breakfast during instructional time.
School resource officers: House Bill 63 calls on local school districts to place a school resource officer in each school by Aug. 1, if they can afford the cost. A state security marshal report said more than half of all Kentucky schools lack a school resource officer.
The bill also allows local school boards to establish a police department for the district.
The goal is to help decrease the severity and even prevent Kentucky school shootings. Critics of the bill argued a more comprehensive solution was needed. LEX 18 has the full story here.
Serving alcohol: House Bill 252 clears the way for 18-year-olds to sell and serve alcoholic beverages. However, people under the age of 20 remain prohibited from bartending.
Student mental health: House Bill 44 allows school boards to excuse absences due to a student’s mental or behavioral health status. Provisions will now have to be included in their student attendance policies.
State Rep. Bobby McCool said in a statement that the COVID-19 pandemic drastically affected the mental health of students in a way that no one expected. "It is time to take a common sense approach and treat mental health like the health condition it really is,” he said. “As parents and lawmakers, we must do everything we can to remove possible barriers associated with seeking help. This is a small step in the right direction.”
This bill had bipartisan support and was student-led.
Swatting: House Bill 48 makes falsely reporting an incident that results in an emergency response – commonly called “swatting” – a felony. This comes after LEX 18 Investigates first addressed the issue in 2021, after someone called in a fake report of violence at a couple's home, drawing armed police straight to their door.
The husband and wife spoke out because they believe "swatting" should be a felony offense due to the anxiety, fear, and stress it caused them.
After seeing our report, lawmakers decided to make swatting a Class D felony punishable by jail time for a minimum of 1 year in prison and a maximum of 5 years.
Telecommunicators: House Bill 79 allows telecommunicators and dispatchers to join the Law Enforcement Professional Development Wellness Program, which includes instruction on and provides resources for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and work-induced stress. It is also known as the Lifeliner's Act by Rep. Bill Wesley.
"Our dispatchers are sometimes the lifeline between our first responders and the life and death situations," Wesley said. "They are our lifeline in every situation."
Transgender athletes: Senate Bill 83 included with an emergency clause is already a law in Kentucky. It prevents male-to-female transgender students from participating in girls’ sports, starting in the sixth grade and continuing through college. Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the bill and cited the Kentucky High School Athletic Association's current policies that would prevent an unfair advantage in women's sports. The Kentucky legislature overrode him,
the Senate in a 29-8 vote and in the House in a 72-23 vote.
All students will be allowed to play on boys or coed teams, but girls' teams "shall not be open to members of the male sex."
The bill also says the Kentucky Board of Education, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, school districts, or schools will not be allowed to "entertain a complaint, open an investigation, or take any other adverse action" against schools for preventing transgender girls from playing on girls teams.
Kentuckians can research bills and resolutions and review statistics from the 2022 session. Citizens may also share their views by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.