FRANKFORT, Ky. — Working late into the night Tuesday, Kentucky lawmakers sent Gov. Andy Beshear dozens of bills ahead of the veto break.
What You Need To Know
- State lawmakers send dozens of bills to Beshear ahead of veto break
- School choice, teacher pensions, COVID-19 orders included in the bills
- Lawmakers can still pass legislation when they return to Frankfort after the veto period on March 29 and 30, but they won't have the chance to override any potential veto if they do
House Bill 563
In a heated debate that lasted several hours in both chambers, lawmakers approved a bill requiring school districts to adopt a policy allowing students to transfer to a different public school.
The bill also creates education opportunity accounts, which are run by private organizations that provide grant money for parents to pay for school supplies.
A provision added to the bill in the House during the first vote last week allowed Kentucky’s three most-populated counties to let parents use EOA money to pay for private school tuition. An amendment passed in the Senate Tuesday evening bolstered that provision to allow parents living in counties with a population above 90,000 people to use EOA money to pay for private school tuition: Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Boone, Warren, Hardin, Daviess, and Campbell counties.
Democrats say the provision is a roundabout way to approve private school vouchers.
“This is a bill that slaps our public education professionals, certified and classified staff, in the face,” said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville).
The bill provides a $25 million tax credit for people who donate to education opportunity accounts. Opponents of the measure say that money would be better suited to going directly to the school districts.
“Where is the increase in SEEK funding? Why are we not funding textbooks for the third year in a row? Why are we making it harder to retain and recruit teachers that love teaching?” said. Rep. Pamela Stevenson (D-Louisville).
The provision passed by one vote in the House, 48-47. Rep. Al Gentry (D-Louisville) voted in favor of the bill despite having personal objections to it.
“I do not support many things in this bill, however, the majority of the people who sent me here do support this bill, so I voted yes for them,” Gentry said.
Some Republicans voted in favor of the bill but wish it did more for private schools.
“I think it’s atrocious that we stand here debating the fact that parents should have the choice to choose where they send their children. That’s what this is about,” said Rep. Felicia Rabourn (R-Turners Station).
Full-day kindergarten was included in the measure during the House vote, but it was stripped out of the bill when it reached the Senate over concerns it wouldn’t pass. Because that provision would cost so much, anywhere from $100-$125 million, according to lawmakers, it counts as an appropriation and would have needed approval from three-fifths of each chamber.
If Beshear vetoes the bill, lawmakers need to have 51 votes in the House to override his veto.
House Bill 258
Lawmakers also approved a change to teacher pensions, moving new hires to a hybrid model that’s closer to a 401(k) plan. The plan still includes a defined benefit, similar to the plan for existing teachers, but it would be a smaller benefit.
Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon) said the current system is unsustainable.
“The only way that we ever get this paid off is a long time and a whole lot of money, but what this plan does is it stops the digging,” Higdon said.
The plan worries Democrats and education advocates who say it’ll lead to lower retirement benefits and make it even harder to recruit teachers.
“We don’t want to give them pay raises. We don’t want to fund their schools. We have a difficult time recognizing that they have a voice worthy of hearing. And now we don’t even want to give them retirement security,” said Sen. Reggie Thomas (D-Lexington).
The measure applies to teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2022.
House Bill 405
Lawmakers approved a bill that would fine Beshear $902,000 if he tried to spend money from the America Rescue Plan Act, which would then go to the state’s 'rainy day' fund. Democrats criticized the bill because it was amended by a free conference committee earlier in the day and they didn’t have the chance to read it before it was called to a vote around 11 p.m.
The free conference committee report on the bill was not available online at the time of the vote.
House Joint Resolution 77
Lawmakers approved a resolution ratifying most of the governor’s emergency orders related to the coronavirus, although it does not include the mask mandate or capacity restrictions on bars and restaurants.
The move comes after lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1, which restricts the governor’s emergency orders to 30 days without legislative approval. Beshear has sued the legislature over that bill, along with House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 2. All three were temporarily halted from taking effect after an order by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd earlier this month.
Senate Bill 169
House members stood and applauded Rep. John Blanton (R-Salyersville) for his work on legislation that would increase retirement benefits for permanently injured first responders from 25% to 75%.
“This bill makes a tremendous difference, and for me, it gives me a lot of encouragement because one man, a lot of us have supported him, but one man has fought for this for a long time,” said Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville).
Senate Bill 169 was supported by Cathy Hyche, whose husband Darrell was working as a Louisville detective when he was shot in the face in 2018
“He was devastated,” Cathy Hyche told a House committee last week. "He not only could not go back to the job he loved, but he’s not going to be able to provide for his family. It was crushing.”
The bill passed unanimously.
Senate Bill 128
Another bill with bipartisan support, Senate Bill 128, would allow K-12 students to repeat a year of school because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I know of kindergartners who did their first year of school on (non-traditional instruction) for kindergarten and don’t even know their letters yet,” said Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D-Louisville). "I’m so excited that we’re hearing this one today, and I urge you to vote yes."
Rep. Steve Riley (R-Glasgow) said the measure was an opportunity to help students and parents "recover some time that they lost during this time period."
Senate Bill 228
House Republicans and Democrats were divided on a bill that would change how Kentucky fills a vacancy in the U.S. Senate.
Under Senate Bill 228, the governor would appoint an interim senator from a list of three names chosen by the outgoing senator’s political party. The interim senator would serve until the next election cycle, unless it happens within three months of election day, in which case the interim senator remains in office until the next statewide regular election.
The proposal creates an open primary election to fill the rest of the senator’s term, where multiple members of both parties can run against each other on the same ballot. If no one receives more than 50% of the vote in the open primary, a runoff election would happen between the two leading vote-getters.
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville) questioned why the legislation was not introduced when a Republican was serving as governor.
"Once again, here we are with a huge power grab from Frankfort,” she said.
The bill passed 73-25 in the House and now heads to the governor.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said he supports the bill, but denied it has any implications for him earlier this month.
House Bill 574
The Senate approved the election reform bill, supported by Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, but the House has to sign off on changes to the bill made in the Senate, which did not happen Tuesday night.
The measure provides three days of early voting the week before the election, including that Saturday.
It also creates voting super-centers in each county and creates an online portal to apply for an absentee ballot, similar to the portal created for the 2020 election due to COVID-19.
The measure also gives the secretary of state more power to remove people from the voter rolls who moved out of Kentucky and prohibits the practice of ballot harvesting.
“We indeed are transforming the way in which we will elect our public officials, and we will ensure the integrity of the ballot to eliminate things like voter fraud, cheating, ballot harvesting and the like here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” said Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown).
The bill passed with a large amount of bipartisan support.
“I’d like to see even more voting options included in this bill. But I do think it’s important for us to codify some of these changes now,” said Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville). “And they do give the voters more options, and we can continue to work on it.”
Lawmakers can still pass legislation when they return to Frankfort after the veto period on March 29 and 30, but they won't have the chance to override any potential veto if they do.
Many of the proposals included in House Bill 574 either come directly from or are modeled after measures implemented during the 2020 election cycle because of COVID-19, which Beshear supported.
Lawmakers did not act on several bills before adjourning for the veto break, including several Beshear is expected to veto.
Some of the remaining pieces of legislation:
SB 4: a bill significantly limiting the use of no-knock warrants.
SB 5: business liability protections against lawsuits related to COVID-19.
SB 211: makes it illegal to insult or taunt a police officer, along with enhanced penalties for rioting.
HB 309: a bill dealing with citizen review boards and possibly giving them subpoena powers as they investigate police conduct.