The 2022 General Assembly, controlled by Republican supermajorities, has delighted conservatives and rabid liberals.
While the focus of the past few days might have been on what didn’t become law, like bills legalizing sports betting and medical marijuana, a long list of bills has crossed the finish line. . Most were GOP priorities that overcame Democratic Governor Andy Beshear’s vetoes.
“It was truly, Mr. Speaker, more than most of us could have imagined when we began this journey sixty days ago,” said Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R -Georgetown, in a floor speech Thursday night. “But we rarely lost a day.”
Here are ten of the most high-profile topics they covered.
▪ Income tax reductions. With House Bill 8, lawmakers continued Kentucky down a path of lowering the state income tax rate while expanding the 6% sales tax to cover more services. The tax change is estimated will cost the state’s General Fund $888 million over the next two years, but Republican supporters say it will produce long-term growth.
Certain “triggers” enshrined in the bill – including sufficient revenue to cover expenses and a healthy balance in the state’s “rainy day” fiscal reserve trust fund – will allow the tax rate on income to fall by 0.5% from its current maximum rate of 5 percent. The first reduction of 0.5% should occur automatically this year.
▪ State budget. For the first time in recent memory, Kentucky got a two-year budget that wasn’t filled with painful cuts to services.
Instead, with billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 pandemic relief and a healthy state economy, the $13 billion annual general fund includes significant wage increases for workers in the ‘Long Neglected State; full contributions for public pensions, plus additional cash to help repay the $26 billion in unfunded pension system liabilities; and full-day kindergarten in local school districts.
The budget did not include the state-funded preschool programs for 4-year-olds that Beshear wanted, or the mandatory teacher salary increases he had demanded. GOP lawmakers said they included enough funding for K-12 schools for local districts to provide raises to teachers if the districts choose.
The budget is expected to leave $1.75 billion in the state’s “rainy day” trust fund for unforeseen needs. The budget also left about $1 billion unspent to absorb income tax cuts.
▪ Prohibition of abortion. With House Bill 3, lawmakers have essentially ended abortion in Kentucky, at least for now. Lawsuits challenging the bill have already been filed by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Kentucky.
The bill prohibits the distribution of abortion pills through the mail; raises legal standards for minors seeking abortions; and mandates the creation of a new extensive certification and monitoring system to track the details of all abortions performed in the state as well as the doctors who perform them.
Opponents of the bill say the system is impossible to implement without additional funding and, therefore, will effectively revoke access to medical procedure in the state.
▪ School control. Senate Bill 1 ended up doing two things, one somewhat controversial and one very controversial.
The original part of SB 1 gave more power to school superintendents to establish curriculum and hire principals, taking power away from parents and teachers of schools’ site-based decision-making boards.
Later, lawmakers attached the text of Senate Bill 138. This part requires two dozen specific materials to be taught in middle and high school American history classes and establishes “safeguards” – as one supporter described it – on how teachers are allowed to talk about racism. , equality and economic opportunity in the classroom.
▪ Charter schools. Kentucky approved charter schools in 2017, but only this year allowed them to be publicly funded.
House Bill 9 will allow charter schools to obtain per-pupil funding from local school districts while operating under independent management contracts with those districts. They would operate under fewer regulations than most district-run schools.
Among the most contested elements of HB 9: Charter schools can be for-profit or not-for-profit, and the wording of the bill specifically requires charter schools to be approved in Louisville and northern Kentucky in as pilot programs.
▪ Political redistricting. The session opened in January with new district maps for the State House and Senate and Kentucky’s six congressional seats, the product of 2020 census data and closed-door discussions of Republican supermajorities in the legislature.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats filed a lawsuit challenging the maps, saying the GOP drew lines to give itself unfair advantages, such as carving up the liberal town of Lexington like pizza to dilute its electoral influence. While litigation is pending in Franklin Circuit Court, this year’s election is expected to continue with the new maps.
▪ Public benefits. Pushed by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to get more people back into the workforce, lawmakers passed two bills aimed at making public benefits for the poor less generous.
House Bill 4 will reduce the length of time unemployment insurance is available, from the current 26 weeks, by indexing it to the statewide unemployment average over a recent three-month period. Critics say it could force Kentuckians to take an ill-suited job within six weeks that pays barely half what their last job paid.
House Bill 7 adds restrictions to state food stamps and Medicaid programs. There are stiffer penalties for public benefit fraud and a “community engagement” program that state officials must create for able-bodied adult Medicaid recipients without dependents. There’s also a ban on the Medicaid program’s use of a shortcut called “presumed eligibility” to more easily enroll Kentuckians who suddenly need health insurance.
About 544,000 Kentuckians receive food stamps and 1.6 million are enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program.
▪ Library control. Senate Bill 167 let elected county politicians take control of public libraries by appointing whoever they want to library boards and vetoing major library spending. There’s also language to allow libraries to provide their buildings to “educational institutions,” a nod to the private Pikeville University wanting to occupy the library in downtown Pikeville.
Most Kentucky library systems are tax districts established by citizen petition, and until now have been largely self-governing and self-funding. County executive judges appointed members of the library’s board of trustees, but only based on state-approved finalists presented to them by the library.
Proponents of SB 167 say that library boards can levy property taxes and therefore should be accountable to someone who is elected by voters.
▪ transgender students. Senate Bill 83 prohibits transgender girls and women in Kentucky from participating in women’s and women’s sports from sixth grade through college. The bill states that female-only school sports will not be open to students born biologically as male.
Proponents of the bill have said it will protect girls’ sport by ensuring that female-born students will not have to compete with male-born students, who are stronger and faster due to their biological advantage.
Critics rejected that premise and said the bill was cruelly aimed at harassing a relatively small number of young transgender girls in Kentucky who wanted to play sports with their peers. In addition, they said, high school and college sports regulators already have rules on the matter.
▪ Name, image, likeness. One of the few major bills that generated bipartisan support and no protests were Senate Bill 6a bill that enshrined in state law the right of student-athletes to benefit from name, image and likeness agreements.
Kentucky student-athletes previously could earn money through NIL deals due to an executive order Beshear signed last summer.
In addition to authorizing the agreements, the law gives universities the ability to impose reasonable restrictions on NIL agreements and grants them immunity from potential lawsuits. The law also requires universities to educate student-athletes about contracts, negotiations and the potential tax implications of their deals.