The Kentucky General Assembly convened until nearly midnight on Thursday — the last legislative day of the current session before the two-week veto period — passing through a number bills whose fate was up against the clock, while leaving several other high-profile ones behind.
While the last legislative day of the session will take place on Thursday, March 28, after the veto period, any bills passed on that day could be vetoed by Gov. Matt Bevin, and the General Assembly would have no opportunity to vote to override that veto.
Here is a rundown of some of the major legislation that received final approval by the General Assembly on Thursday and will be sent to the governor, along with some other bills that did not make the cut and appear to be officially declared dead for the session.
Senate Bill 57 — Felony Expungement
Sen. Jimmy Higdon’s bill to expand the number of Class D felonies that are eligible for expungement went through a number of changes in each chamber but received final approval by a wide majority of legislators Thursday night.
Under the final version of SB 57, those newly eligible only have to wait five years after their sentence is completed to apply for expungement, which is lower than the 10-year requirement under the original bill. Those seeking expungement would now have to prove to a judge by “clear and convincing evidence” that striking that felony from their criminal record would be warranted and appropriate for society.
Instead of the current $500 filing fee to seek expungement of a felony, the final version of the bill requires a $50 filing fee and then a $250 fee to be paid if a judge grants an expungement, with that only becoming official after the payment is made. The original bill had that secondary fee at $450, which was lowered to $150 in a House committee and then finally raised to $250 in a House floor amendment attached to the final version of SB 57 that passed both chambers.
Three different bills restricting abortion in Kentucky were given final approval by the legislature on Thursday, along with a vow by the ACLU of Kentucky to legally challenge them in court.
Senate Bill 9 is a bill that would criminalize abortion once the heartbeat of a fetus can be detected, which is at roughly six weeks, or before many women even realize that they are pregnant. Such legislation in other states have been blocked from implementation in federal courts.
Senate Bill 50 would require doctors to inform women seeking a medication-induced abortion that an abortion could be “reversed,” though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists state that such claims are “not based on science and do no meet clinical standards.” The legislature also gave final approval to House Bill 148, which would outlaw abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade was ever reversed by the Supreme Court of the United States.
The General Assembly also approved House Bill 5 on Wednesday that would ban abortion if the woman decided to have it because of a fetal diagnosis or characteristics of the fetus, with the ACLU indicating that it would also sue over this bill and citing other states where such a law was struck down.
House Bill 499 — CIO Grindle 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 appeared headed toward easy passage on Thursday, but it suddenly faced a roadblock in the Senate and now is unlikely to become law.
House Bill 499 recently passed in the House with a unanimous vote and then advanced again through a Senate committee on Tuesday without a single dissenting vote. However, the Senate failed to call it to a vote on Thursday, with Senate President Robert Stivers claiming there was not enough time to do so.
Despite a large majority of the Senate and Republican caucus favoring HB 499, Carney told Insider Louisville that “I think it’s safe to say some of (Senate GOP) leadership (had an issue with it), but certainly not all.” Asked if Sen. Ralph Alvarado being Bevin’s running mate for governor played a factor in the bill’s demise, Carney said, “I believe that could have been a factor for some.”
Last year the General Assembly lifted the cap on Grindle’s salary at the request of 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 General Assembly could still pass HB 499 in two weeks on the last day of the session, but they would be unable to override the probable veto of the governor.
Senate Bill 100 — Net Metering
In a defeat of the solar industry and a victory for large utility companies, the legislature gave final approval to SB 100, which will reduce the financial incentives for customers to install solar panels and sell excess energy back to the utility companies’ power grid.
House Bill 268 — Debt Spending
House and Senate Republicans reached a compromise on HB 268, which allows the Bevin administration to borrow $75 million in the current two-year budget for improvements to state parks and economic development projects. The House had originally requested $150 million in spending, but the Senate had zeroed such spending out.
A day earlier, the legislature approved House Bill 354 — the so-called “cleanup” bill correcting parts of the hastily passed tax bill passed last session — which cut tax revenue by an additional $105 million, mostly through a new tax break for banks operating in Kentucky.
House Bill 358 — Pension Carve Out
An effort to let seven state colleges and a number of quasi-governmental organizations leave the troubled Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS) appears to have failed this session, as the House and Senate could not come to an agreement on HB 358.
While these groups sought to exit the state pension systems due to rapidly increasing payments to cover their workers — or at least cap those payments — a fiscal analysis by the Legislative Research Commission found that this would have added over $1 billion to the already massive unfunded liability of KRS.
House Bill 387 — Open Records Act
An effort to gut the Kentucky Open Records Act has officially failed, as HB 387 was not acted upon. The bill would have exempted additional information related to economic development incentives offered by the state, in addition to blocking open record requests from outside the state, ending the ability to appeal denials by the legislature and expanding ability for government agencies to exclude documents due to being deemed “preliminary.”
House Bill 46 — In God We Trust
The legislature gave final passage to HB 46, which requires all public schools to prominently display “In God We Trust.” The ACLU opposed the bill but has not yet announced its intention to file a lawsuit to block it.
Senate Bill 6 — Executive Branch Lobbying
The General Assembly gave final approval to SB 6, which would expand the public disclosure of groups that lobby the executive branch in Kentucky. While organizations and businesses that employ legislative branch lobbyists must disclose the amount they spend, this bill will add this requirement to those lobbying the governor and state agencies.
This story was updated to note the correct title for SB 57.