Updated: Mar 9
More top issues of the General Assembly’s 2020 session came into better focus this past week as legislative action hit high gear.
In the Senate, members gave approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that could give the General Assembly authority to establish standards on restoring voting rights for certain felons, not including those who committed treason, election bribery, a sex offense, a violent crime, or an offense against a child.
Kentucky law currently prohibits felons from voting unless they have their rights restored by the governor.
Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order in December to restore voting rights to about 140,000 felons.
Supporters of Senate Bill 62 say the legislation would build on this by giving Kentucky an enduring approach to restoring voting rights that isn’t susceptible to different approaches future governors might have on the issue.
The bill passed the Senate 29-7 on Thursday and now goes to the House for consideration. If approved there, Kentucky voters would have the final say on the proposed constitutional amendment in November.
Measures advancing in the House this past week include a bill that would establish a tax on vaping products. It would also increase the excise tax rate per unit and weight on snuff and chewing tobacco. Pipe tobacco and cigars would also see a wholesale tax increase from 15 to 25 percent, although cigarettes would not see a change. Supporters say the legislation, House Bill 32, would help decrease vaping among youth while generating needed revenue for the state.
The bill was approved by the House 75-17 on Wednesday and delivered to the Senate.
Other bills that took steps forward in the legislation process over the past week include measures on the following topics:
Adoption leave. House Bill 390 would require employers to offer the same leave policies to adoptive parents as they offer to birth parents. The legislation was approved by the House 81-0 on Friday and now goes to the Senate.
Eating disorders. Senate Bill 82 seeks to offer better treatment options to those with eating disorders by establishing the Kentucky Eating Disorder Council. The council would oversee the development and implementation of eating disorder awareness, education and prevention programs. It would also identify strategies for improving access to adequate diagnosis and treatment services and made recommendations on legislative and regulatory changes. The bill was approved by the House Health and Family Services Committee on Thursday and awaits action from the full House.
High school vocational education. Senate Bill 156 would require the state to develop plans to transition state-operated secondary vocational educational centers to local school districts by mid-2024. The bill was approved by the Senate 30-7 on Tuesday and has been sent to the House for consideration.
Infrastructure protection. House Bill 44 seeks to strengthen the security of critical infrastructure across Kentucky. The legislation would specify that above-ground natural gas and petroleum pipelines and cable television headend are among the infrastructure assets aren’t suitable areas for drone flights. The legislation also defines tampering with the assets as felony criminal mischief. The bill was approved by the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee on Wednesday and awaits consideration from the full Senate.
Local taxes. House Bill 475 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove restrictions on ways the General Assembly can allow local governments to levy certain taxes. The bill was approved Thursday by the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Thursday. If approved by the full House and Senate, the measure would be decided by voters in a statewide ballot this fall.
Mental illness. Senate Bill 154 would add a diagnosis of serious mental illness to the disabilities which prevent the death penalty for persons convicted of capital offenses. The diagnoses of the serious mental illness would need to come before the capital offense occurs, not after. The legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and now goes to the full Senate.
Newborn screenings. Senate Bill 60 would require that newborns be screened for spinal muscular atrophy. Early diagnosis of this genetic disease helps babies receive treatment when it’s most effective. The bill passed the House Health and Family Services Committee on Thursday and awaits a vote from the full House.
Pardons. Senate Bill 58 would prohibit a governor from pardoning or commuting sentences 30 days or less before a gubernatorial election. If a governor is re-elected, pardon powers would be restored on inauguration day. The bill, which was approved by the Senate 33-4 on Wednesday, now goes to the House for further consideration. Since Senate Bill 58 seeks to amend the state constitution, it would need to be approved by Kentucky voters this fall to go into effect.
Veterans. House Bill 24 would support plans to build a veterans nursing home in Bowling Green. The legislation would appropriate $2.5 million needed to complete design and preconstruction work for the 90-bed facility.
That must be completed before federal funding is allocated to start building the proposed $30 million facility. The bill was approved by the Senate 36-0 on Wednesday and now goes to the governor’s desk.
Youth protection. Senate Bill 182 would make it illegal to post personally identifying information about a minor online with the intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, or frighten.
The bill received approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and awaits a vote from the full Senate.
To offer your legislators feedback on the issues under consideration, call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.