Legislature closes a 60-day session

Published 9:00 pm Monday, April 15, 2024

FRANKFORT — After 60 days of work, Kentucky’s lawmakers went home Monday until next year’s session.

While most of the high-profile bills passed in late March or Friday, the legislature had a few more items to take care of before sine die.

Safer Kentucky Act ceremonial signing

The day began with a ceremonial signing of House Bill 5, the Safer Kentucky Act. After Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the wide-ranging, tough-on-crime bill, the legislature promptly overrode his veto.

Monday, Secretary of State Michael Adams signed HB5, surrounded by lawmakers and families of crime victims.

“I’ve never been prouder to sign a bill than I am today signing House Bill 5,” Adams said. “I live in Jefferson County, so I feel safer already.”

HB5 includes dozens of provisions, including a street camping ban on public streets, areas under bridges or underpasses, in front of businesses, on private property, in parks or other areas designated for use by pedestrians or vehicles. After a first warning, violations would be a Class B misdemeanor.

Another provision limits the ability of charitable bail organizations to post bail over $5,000. They are also banned from posting bail for anyone accused of a violent offense, under court order or warrant or who has previously been bailed out by a charitable organization.

The family of Madelynn Troutt attended the signing. Madelynn died at 17 in a head on car crash with a man driving on the wrong side of the road in a stolen vehicle just after being bailed out by a charitable bail organization.

Madelynn’s mother, Marcie Troutt, said the bail part of HB5 would “absolutely” save lives.

“I believe that if something like this had been the law, then our daughter would still be here,” she said.

The Bail Project, a national nonprofit, made a statement that HB5 would only reinforce a two-tiered system of justice—one for wealthy people who can afford to post bail, and another for those who cannot.

“When people are unnecessarily detained because they can’t pay bail, they lose jobs, homes, and access to children, their health suffers, and they face worsened case outcomes,” the statement said. “They also face a greater likelihood of being incarcerated again in the future because of how destabilized their lives become.”

Louisville Republican Rep. Jared Bauman, who sponsored HB5, called it the “most impactful and meaningful criminal justice reform across our great Commonwealth in decades.”

While the cost is unknown—several reports have estimated it at well over $1 billion over the next decade—he said that whatever it is, “it certainly pales in comparison to the actual cost of crime” in Kentucky.

Bauman added that nothing in the bill would hurt the homeless.

“I think we’ve got a lot of love in this bill with the street camping provisions to ensure that we nudge people towards treatment if they need that for substance abuse or mental illness,” he said. “…Now, certainly, it is a law and if you violate the law, there are penalties for that.”

Education commissioner confirmed

In 2023, the General Assembly gave itself the power to confirm Kentucky’s commissioner of education.

The legislature had a strained relationship with the last commissioner, Dr. Jason Glass, who supported guidance encouraging schools to honor the preferred pronouns of transgender students.

Republicans called for Glass’ removal for months. Amid this controversy, Glass resigned from his post in September 2023.

In March, the Kentucky Board of Education nominated Dr. Robbie Fletcher to replace Glass.

Friday, Fletcher testified about his experience in front of a Senate committee, and Monday, the Senate confirmed his appointment in a 36-1 vote.

Fletcher is currently the superintendent of Lawrence County Schools, and has spent most of his career serving Eastern Kentucky students.

Legislators emphasized the importance of communication between the education commissioner and the Senate. Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said Glass didn’t meet with the Senate at all for about 18 months.

“Dr. Fletcher has had experience at all levels of Kentucky education, from a classroom teacher to assistant principal to principal to superintendent,” said Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville. “He has performed all of those duties with the steadfast diligence and with guidance.”

Fletcher said his goal is to ensure every child is “safe, loved and well-educated.” He said he’ll keep lines of communication open.

While he said he’d vote against the school choice constitutional amendment that would send public dollars to private schools, if it passes, Fletcher said he’d do his best to make it work.

He said he looks forward to lightening teachers’ loads.

“We want you to go home and say how much you love this job and we want you to be well compensated for it,” he said.

Momnibus and maternal fatality teams

At the last minute, several bills relating to maternal health got combined and passed.

Senate Bill 74 requires the Department for Public Health to create a statewide child and maternal fatality review team to investigate why Kentucky has such a high rate—38.4 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to the national rate of 23.5 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Friday, Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, attached her separate “momnibus” bill to SB74 as a floor amendment. The House approved the package, and Monday, the Senate agreed.

The “momnibus” bill includes several provisions aimed at improving maternal health.

It establishes the Kentucky Lifeline for Moms to help health care practitioners address the needs of mothers with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities.

The momnibus also provides a special health insurance enrollment period for pregnant women and several other health benefits.

What didn’t happen?

Louisville Democratic Sen. David Yates sponsored Hadley’s Law to add exceptions for rape, incest and fetal abnormalities early in the session, but it was never assigned to a committee.

After a convoluted debate on legislative rules, a Hail Mary to skip the entire process and get a vote on the abortion exceptions bill failed Friday evening.

More surprisingly, a controversial bill that threatened the Open Records Act didn’t make it on Monday’s agenda.

House Bill 509 would have provided official emails for public employees. But it would have also deemed any records on personal devices not subject to open records requests used by journalists and citizens to hold public officials accountable.

Senate President Robert Stivers said it’s not gone forever, though. He expects to see it return during the interim session, and maybe next year.