Week in review: State lawmakers tackle bus safety, governor pardons, vaping

Published 12:18 pm Friday, February 23, 2024

FRANKFORT — Lawmakers are picking up the pace after the midpoint of the 2024 legislative session.

Last week’s grab bag of policy priorities included bills addressing school bus safety, U.S. Senate vacancies, juror payment, governor pardons, vaping and privacy rights

School bus safety

Last November, 143 Jefferson County Public Schools bus drivers called out on a Monday morning to protest working conditions.

Louisville Republican Reps. Emily Callaway and Kevin Bratcher are now addressing what they said was one of the key issues—violence and behavior issues on school busses.

FRANKFORT, Feb. 20 – Rep. Emily Callaway, R-Louisville, (left) and Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, listen to a question about their bill – House Bill 446 – to improve behavior on Kentucky school buses. Their testimony was part of Tuesday’s House Education Committee (Legislative Research Commission)

Callaway said that during the fall, JCPS busses saw 224 instances of students’ taunting, baiting or inciting a fight, and 1,226 instances of a student striking another student.

In Bullitt County, the principal is reviewing more videos of violent offenses than ever—two to six a day compared to one to two a week just a few years ago.

Bratcher clarified that it isn’t solely a Louisville issue—”It’s just a discipline problem.”

Bratcher and Callaway are carrying House Bill 446, which would require student bus riders and their parents to sign a separate behavior policy. If a student violates the policy by putting the driver or other students at risk, the bus driver can refuse to transport them until an investigation is complete.

The measure passed the House Education committee Tuesday.

U.S. Senate vacancies

In recent months, Republican U.S. Sen Mitch McConnell’s health has come under question after brief freeze-ups.

McConnell’s term ends in 2026. However, current law states that if he vacates his seat before then, Gov. Andy Beshear would get to appoint his interim replacement from a list of three candidates provided by McConnell’s political party.

Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, wants to remove the governor’s appointment power and replace it with a special election. He told the Lexington Herald-Leader that House Bill 622 has nothing to do with McConnell.

Juror payment

In Kentucky, jurors are currently paid $5 per day of service, with up to $7.50 for reimbursement of expenses, like parking and lunch.

Juror compensation hasn’t been updated since 1978. $12.50 then would amount to $59.13 today, adjusting for inflation.

Employers are not required to pay employees during their absence for jury duty, while jurors are required to be available for up to 30 court dates, or the duration of their case.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, called the current compensation “pitiful.”

He filed Senate Bill 22 to raise the daily rate to $125, which he said that he personally does not believe is actually enough.

The change would cost about $17 million a year, Westerfield said.

During a Senate Appropriations and Revenue committee discussion of the bill, Sen. Shelley Funk Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, brought up concerns about double pay, for those employers that do pay jurors for their time of service.

Westerfield said that in his time as a prosecutor, he’s talked to many jurors and doesn’t think that’s the norm, but also that he’s “okay with the double compensation, realizing that there are lots of employers that don’t pay you for the day that you’re serving on juries.”

Limiting governor pardons

In 2019, after voters had decided that Beshear would be their next governor, outgoing Governor Matt Bevin made hundreds of controversial pardons, including convicted rapists and murderers.

FRANKFORT, Feb. 21 – Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, speaks about Senate Bill 126, legislation that proposes to amend sections of the state constitution related to gubernatorial pardons. McDaniel spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday. (Legislative Research Commission)

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, said that this action, after Bevin had lost all accountability to voters, was contrary to the principles of justice.

McDaniel is carrying Senate Bill 126, a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit a governor from granting pardons or commuting sentences in the month period before a gubernatorial election and the time between the election and the inauguration.

The Senate voted 34-2-1 to pass the measure.

“This proposed amendment would ensure that a governor is accountable to the voters for his or her actions,” McDaniel said. “It would not take away a governor’s ability to issue pardons, but I do think that, in light of what Kentucky experienced at the end of the 2019 gubernatorial election, it would fix a loophole in the system.”


What started as an alternative to conventional smoking has turned into a just as omnipresent and significant health risk.

Many state legislators want to crack down on vaping, as well as use of other alternative nicotine and tobacco products.

Rep. Mark Hart, R-Falmouth, is sponsoring House Bill 142, which would require local boards of education to create policies targeting students under 21 that use these products.

Under the bill, students who violate anti-vaping policies would, at a minimum, have their products confiscated on a first offense, have the board determine their punishment on a second offense and be subject for suspension on a third offense.

A successful floor amendment added the opportunity for students with an in-school suspension to compete an evidence-based, age-appropriate nicotine education program. Schools would also have to distribute nicotine prevention and cessation materials to all students at the beginning of the year.

The measure gained House approval in a 80-11 vote.

Privacy rights

Everywhere you go, you leave a digital footprint behind, said Rep. Josh Branscum, R-Russell Springs, while explaining his consumer privacy bill on the House floor Tuesday.

“As all of us know, we live in a digital age,” he said. “Whether you’re buying things from an online retailer, connecting with friends and family on your favorite social media platform, or even checking our phones to catch up on the daily news or sports there, the Internet is heavily ingrained in our daily lives.”

Branscum sponsored House Bill 15 to create a set of data privacy protections for Kentuckians.

His bill would give Kentuckians the rights to:

  • access the data a company has gathered from them, and correct any errors;
  • demand that a company delete their data; and
  • tell a company, website or social media platform to stop processing and selling their data for targeted advertisements.

The policy would apply to all companies that process data from over 100,000 consumers, or smaller companies that get at least half of their revenue from selling personal data.

The measure, which would be enforced by the attorney general, unanimously passed in the House.