The Capitol building in Frankfort | Photo by Olivia Krauth

Time is running down on the 2019 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, which has its last legislative day before the two-week veto period on Thursday, and then its final legislative day on Thursday, March 28.

With so little time remaining, some bills have managed to speed through the House or Senate this week and improve their odds of being passed into law, while others appear to have hopelessly stalled and are presumed dead.

However, even the bills that currently appear to be dead are never truly dead until the legislature has adjourned, as past sessions have showed that the legislature can insert last-minute changes to bills that adopt language of legislation that could not make its way through a chamber.

Here’s a rundown of the bills that moved closer to passage this week, as well as the others whose fate now appears dim.

Senate Bill 230 — Open Records Act

Kentucky finally appears primed to move into the late-20th century when it comes to how residents can submit open records requests, thanks to the passage of SB 230 on Tuesday. Sponsored by Republican candidate for attorney general Sen. Wil Schroeder, this bill — which passed without a single vote of dissent in each chamber — will mandate that government agencies must accept open records requests submitted via email, as some agencies to this day still require them to be sent through the mail or by fax.

Senate Bill 7 — Binding Arbitration

Senate President Robert Stivers’ bill to allow employers to require workers to sign biding arbitration agreements as a condition of employment — waiving employees’ right to a civil trial in a dispute — appears on its way to being signed into law, despite a close call in the House on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 7 passed the House by a slim 51-46 vote, despite Republicans’ 62-38 seat majority, as it did not gain the vote of 11 GOP members. The bill was amended in the House so it will be sent back to the Senate, where it passed with a 26-10 vote last month and appears likely to pass once again.

House Bill 499 — Grindle’s Salary Cut

Republican House Majority Floor Leader Bam Carney’s bill cutting the $375,000 annual salary of the state’s Chief Information Officer Charles Grindle nearly in half recently passed unanimously in the House, and once again advanced through a Senate committee on Tuesday without a single dissenting vote.

Last year the legislature lifted the cap on Grindle’s salary at the request of Gov. Matt Bevin, only to be shocked when the governor gave him a $215,000 raise, giving him almost double the salary of the second highest-paid state CIO in the country. That raise attracted more criticism after reporting found that Grindle and Bevin were longtime friends and business associates.

The Senate could pass HB 499 into law on Wednesday or Thursday before the veto period — allowing the legislature to override any potential veto by Bevin — where we’ll see if any member of the governor’s party chooses to side with the raise.

House Bill 136 — Medical Marijuana

While a House committee cast a historic vote to legalize and regulate medical marijuana last week, House Bill 136 has since stalled in its tracks and not been called for a vote on the House floor — despite the bipartisan legislation that now has 48 sponsors in that chamber.

One roadblock for the bill is the fact that it must receive 60 percent of the vote in each chamber, as all appropriation and revenue bills require in the short sessions of odd-numbered years. Even if HB 136 was to pass through the House on Wednesday, that would likely not leave enough time for it to make it through the Senate, where medical marijuana faces more opposition than in the House.

Senate Bill 57 — Felony Expungements

A bill that could allow more individuals who have served time for Class D felonies to have their criminal records expunged made its way through the Senate by a 34-2 vote last month, but now stands at a crossroads in the House.

Senate Bill 57 originally lowered the expungement filing fee from $500 to $50 — with an additional $450 fee due only after the felony is successfully expunged — and applied a 10-year waiting period after time served for the new types of felonies now eligible to be expunged. However, a House committee passed amended bill that lowered the secondary fee to $150, and two floor amendments have been filed to lower the waiting period to five years and raise the fee to $250.

If the House takes up and passes SB 57, it will head back to the Senate due to those amendments and may take work in a conference committee to hammer out the differences between the chamber and settle on a version of the bill that can pass, though the clock is ticking.

Senate Bill 167 — Amendment Affecting Expanded Medicaid

While Senate Bill 167 was uncontroversial when it unanimously passed the Senate last month, that changed when Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, attached a floor amendment in the House last week that health care advocates and hospitals feared would allow the Bevin administration to unilaterally end the state’s expansion of Medicaid by turning down its federal funding.

While Moser left open the possibility that the amendment would stay, she made good on her earlier vow to withdraw it on Tuesday, when SB 167 passed through the House. Some advocates are still watching to see if such an amendment — which was requested by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services — emerges at the last second within another bill.

Many Bills — Abortion

The House and Senate are expected to pass a number of bills on either Wednesday or Thursday that restrict abortion for various reasons and make abortion illegal in the potential case of Roe v. Wade being overturned, including HB 148, HB 5, SB 9, SB 50 and SB 227.

Prognosis Negative

Here are some of the bills that appear to no longer have any chance of passing this session, barring a legislative miracle or last-minute procedural tricks:

  • House Bill 525: One of multiple bills that induced teacher sickouts, a bill to change the makeup of the teachers’ pension board appears dead. After spending more than a week on the House’s orders of the day, lawmakers say it is not going to receive a floor vote. Without a floor vote on Wednesday, it will not be able to make it through the Senate by the end of the session.
  • House Bill 205: Another education bill heavily protested by teachers is dead, supporters and lawmakers said. The bill would have given tax credits to people who donate toward private school scholarships for special needs or low-income students.
  • House Bill 175: This bill to legalize and regulate sports wagering in Kentucky is unlikely to receive a vote in the House, where it would need 60 votes.
  • House Bill 317: This bill cutting unemployment benefits passed a House committee last month and has the backing of business groups, but has stalled and not received a vote on the House floor, where some rural Republican legislators had expressed criticism.
  • House Bill 319: This bill allowing Louisville Metro Council to hire and be represented by its own attorney — and not just the Jefferson County Attorney — passed through the House with a bipartisan 72-22 vote, but it does not look like it will be taken up in a Senate committee.
  • Senate Bill 2: This Republican-backed bill allowing leaders of state government agencies to move lawsuits filed against them in Franklin Circuit Court to other counties in the state made its way through the Senate in a party-line vote, but never received a committee vote in the House.
  • House Bill 517: This bill increasing the gas tax by 10 cents and adding new fees on electric and hybrid cars — adding revenue to the state’s depleted road fund — could not even make it out of a House committee, despite bipartisan support and the backing of chambers of commerce.
  • Senate Bill 99: The bill that would allow direct out-of-state shipments of wine to Kentucky consumers passed quickly in the Senate but has remained stagnant in a House committee, possibly due to a protest by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and bourbon industry as a whole, seeking equal treatment when it comes to shipping spirits.

Olivia Krauth and Sara Havens contributed to this article. 

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]