2020 Legislative Preview: State Bills To Lose Sleep Over, And Some To Hang Hopes On

Wow, with Matt Bevin gone (sort of), this legislative session is sure going to be boring, huh? 

Not!

The Kentucky House and Senate are still controlled by Republicans, but now they face a true Enemy Of The People, a Democrat, instead of their wayward son, Bev. 

That doesn’t bode well for Gov. Andy Beshear’s campaign promises of casino gambling and (medical) pot for everyone(!), which some legislators have already proposed (see below) and other legislators, such as Senate leaders Robert Stivers and Damon Thayer have just as quickly panned as “unequivocally off the table,” at least with gambling.

Also, it’s a budget year, which means lots of squabbling over how to fit Beshear’s dream of a $2,000-a-teacher raise when the state faces a possible $1.1 billion budget shortfall, as predicted by Bevin’s budget director. 

Beshear has until late January to submit his budget wish list (which the House then jiggers before sending to the Senate for more jiggering and then a consensus jiggering from both).

Speaking of the budget, all of the pecuniary hoopla is going to make it more difficult to pass other legislation in 2020. So, we don’t have much hope for off-the-radar issues like requiring African and Native American history in Kentucky schools, from Rep. Attica Scott or Rep. Nima Kulkarni’s anti-SLAPP law legislation, which would help dismiss baseless lawsuits filed against people exercising their First Amendment rights. 

Several of the bills that eager lawmakers have pre-filed are repeats from years past, such as comprehensive gun control legislation and a bid to increase the minimum wage.

But, there also are fresh issues with energetic campaigns behind them, such as new vaping regulations — as well as bills that are important or frightening enough for us to give more scrutiny.

In this breakdown of proposed legislation, we discuss the expected, ridiculous and everything in between.

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The Pot Bills
BR – 366, Medical Marijuana
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville
This “pot bill” has the honor of the governor’s backing — legislation that would legalize and regulate medical marijuana in Kentucky. Nemes’ proposed legislation for 2020 keeps the compromises that he made in last year’s proposal: no home growing and no smoking, but vaping would be OK. Excise taxes taken from the marijuana industry would go to local and state governments.

BR – 272, Whole Hog Legalization
Rep. Cluster Howard, D-Jackson
Howard’s bill would give the people what they really want: pot for all Kentuckians, albeit with some regulations. His bill would set an age requirement of 21, ban public use and limit the number of marijuana retailers, among other things. And yes, the state would collect license fees and taxes with much earmarked for the pension system. Good news for those who have gotten in trouble for marijuana before, too: This pot bill would expunge all pot-related misdemeanors.

The Gambling Bills
BR – 80, Casino Gambling
Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville
With Beshear’s backing of gambling as a revenue source for Kentucky, lawmakers have been emboldened to file several bills, but this casino gambling bill is the most ambitious. Counties would host elections to decide whether or not to allow casinos, and, in return, they’d generate buku dollars for the state and for the regional tourism and infrastructure development funds.

BR – 236; BR – 364, Sports Betting
Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort;
Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger
Coming back this year for a second round: sports betting bills. While both would legalize sports wagering, Koenig’s would go further, allowing fantasy contests and online poker. Each bill would impose taxes and licensing fees.

The Vaping Bills
BR – 925, Flavor Ban
Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington
A recent vaping illness and rising e-cigarette use by teens have inspired several vaping-related bills this session. Wheatley’s is the most controversial: It would ban the sale and distribution of all flavors of vapes except tobacco. Violators would be subject to $1,000 to $2,500 fines. Ouch.

BR – 468; BR – 32, Flavor Regulations, Vape Tax
Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville
Miller does not seek to ban flavored vapes, but he does want to regulate them. His bill would ban online sales of flavored vape products and require stores to use electronic age-verification technology. Flavored vape retailers and manufacturers would register with the state. Also proposed is a 27.5% excise tax on all tobacco products, including vape products.

The Others
BR – 1020, “Bathroom Bill”
Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington
Fifty-four percent of transgender and nonbinary youth have seriously considered suicide in the past year, according to The Trevor Project. But Hale wants to declare a state emergency to protect cisgender youth from the “potential embarrassment, shame, and psychological injury” they might feel about sharing a school restroom, locker room or shower room with a student who was assigned a different gender at birth than them. In other words, transgender and nonbinary youth would be banned from shared bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, and instead, schools would be required to find the “best available” alternative for them. Think, Hale: who really needs your help?

BR – 240; BR – 430, Anti-Sanctuary
Reps. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion; Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville; Danny Bentley, R-Russell; Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke; Joseph M. Fischer, R-Fort Thomas; Chris Fugate, R-Chavies; Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt; David Hale, R-Wellington; Richard Heath, R-Mayfield; Thomas Huff, R-Sepherdsville; Kim King, R-Harrodsburg; Bobby McCool, R-Van Lear; Steve Sheldon, R-Bowling Green; Walker Thomas, R-Hopkinsville; Tommy Turner, R-Somerset; Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello; Les Yates, R-Winchester. Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah
Once again, the legislature wants local law enforcement to be allowed to work with Immigrations and Custom Enforcement officers, no matter what their city or county says. Louisville police are barred by ordinance from doing so in many circumstances. In addition to forbidding sanctuary polices, the House bill would prevent colleges from enrolling and employing illegal immigrants.

BR – 212, No Phones While Driving
Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg
In Kentucky, texting and driving is illegal, but taking a selfie or watching a video is more ambiguous legal territory. Not anymore, if this bill passes. It would ban all hands-on use of a cell phone, GPS, video camera, tablet or laptop while driving. Exceptions would include: voice-to-text messaging, as well as mounted GPSes or “minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate or initiate a function.” •

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