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Sine Die: 2019 Session Wraps Up

The General Assembly's 2019 session came to a close Thursday evening with more than 200 bills approved.

When the final gavel fell on this year’s 30-day session, lawmakers cleaned up a drafting error in House Bill 458 to remove any ambiguity that financial institutions will remain subject to the local bank franchise tax which provides Kentucky county government with nearly $17 million in revenue. Also passing at the last hour, House Bill 358 will give health departments and other quasi-government agencies a pension rate freeze through June 30, 2020. This bill was vetoed by Gov. Bevin.

Partial list of bills that passed:

Abortion. House Bill 5 will make it a felony to perform an abortion due to a decision based on the unborn child’s gender, race, color, national origin or disability. Senate Bill 9, known as the fetal heartbeat bill, will prohibit abortion in Kentucky once a heartbeat is detected in an unborn child. (A federal judge in Louisville has issued temporary restraining orders blocking enforcement of SB 9 and HB 5 after lawsuits were filed challenging the measures.) Senate Bill 50 will require health providers to report prescriptions written for RU-486 or any drug intended to end pregnancy to the state. House Bill 148 will outlaw abortion in Kentucky in most cases should the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling be reversed.

Budget. House Bill 268 authorizes $25 million in bonds for economic development and $50 million in bonds for state parks to be spent on emergency repairs on everything from leaky roofs to backed-up sewers. It would also provide $290,000 for Kentucky State University to match federal money available to land-grant universities.

Concealed carry. Senate Bill 150 will make Kentucky the 16th state to allow concealed firearms to be carried without a concealed carry permit. The measure will allow Kentuckians age 21 and older who are legally eligible to possess a firearm to carry a concealed weapon without a license in the same location as people with valid state-issued licenses. Permitless carry will not be allowed where prohibited by federal law or otherwise prohibited. 

Double Fine Work Zones: House Bill 244 states that at least one worker must be present for a violation to occur, and signs must be posted warning of a double fine.

Drunken driving. Senate Bill 85 will expand the use of ignition interlock devices (IID), Breathalyzer-type devices connected to the ignition systems of vehicles of people convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). The measure will do this by allowing and incentivizing IIDs for all people charged with a DUI and shift administration of the program from the courts to the Transportation Cabinet. SB 85 will also move Kentucky toward a more compliance-based model, in which offenders would have to complete a 120-day period of sober driving before exiting the court-mandated program.

Elections. House Bill 114 will require candidates for state offices and most local offices to officially declare their candidacies via “statement-of-candidacy” forms no later than the last Tuesday in January preceding the general election. The current deadline is April 1. Amendments to the measure will also remove the Secretary of State as a voting member of the State Board of Elections and will make it a misdemeanor if an election official willfully misuses the state’s voter registration roster. Senate Bill 4 will require mandatory electronic filing of all candidates’ campaign finance reports by the May 2020 primaries.

Felony expungement. Senate Bill 57 will expand the number of Kentuckians eligible to have low-level felonies expunged from their criminal records. It will do this by expanding discretionary expungement to all Class D felonies with some exceptions for crimes such as stealing in office, abusing children and sex abuse. It includes a five-year waiting period to apply for expungement, a $250 application fee and provisions for prosecutors to object and judges to reject the applications.

Foster children. House Bill 158, dubbed the “foster child bill of rights,” grants 16 rights for children in out-of-home placement in Kentucky, including rights to “adequate food, clothing and shelter,” “a safe, secure, and stable family,” and “freedom from physical, sexual, or emotional injury or exploitation.” The legislation will also reduce the time for a parent or guardian to consent to voluntarily placing a child for adoption from 20 days to 72 hours. Senate Bill 31 will ensure children in out-of-home care have visitation rights with their siblings.

Free speech. House Bill 254, dubbed the campus free speech bill, will require the state’s public universities to affirm they favor a free marketplace of ideas where speech is not suppressed because it’s deemed “offensive, unwise, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional or radical.” SB 254 will also expand areas commonly known as “free speech zones” on many campuses to any accessible, open, outdoor venue. 

Government contracts. House Bill 135 will prohibit public agencies from requiring that their contractors on public works projects have agreements with labor organizations. 

Hemp. House Bill 197 will expand the legal definition of hemp to include the seeds of industrial hemp, derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids and isomers, among other components. That is the same definition found in the new U.S. Farm Bill, signed into law late last year, which removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act. 

Kinship care. House Bill 2, dubbed the kinship care bill, will create a caregiver assistance program for relatives and “fictive kin” – usually close family friends – of abused, neglected or dependent children. The measure will do this by offering different options to the caregivers based on the level of care they provide. HB 2 is designed to address a growth in out-of-home placement of Kentucky children amid the state’s current opioid crisis. 

Lobbying. Senate Bill 6 will require disclosure of executive agency lobbyist compensation. The measure will also prohibit compensation contingent on awarding of a government contract. It will provide oversight, in part, by requiring executive branch lobbyists to register and list their clients. That’s already required of legislative lobbyists. 

Midwives. Senate Bill 84 will recognize, certify and regulate home-birth midwives in Kentucky. The measure would create a council to advise the state Board of Nursing on the creation of regulations regarding qualifications, standards for training, competency, any necessary statutory changes and all other matters relating to certified professional midwives. 

Military Member Fees: House Bill 316 allows military members called to active duty for 90 days or more to end or suspend certain services (internet, TV, cable, gym membership and satellite radio subscriptions) without penalty or fees.

Pensions. House Bill 358 will give county health departments and other quasi-governmental agencies a chance to leave the Kentucky Employees Retirement System (KERS) as of June 30, 2020, by paying their unfunded liability to the system in a lump sum or installments. These entities that decide to stay in KERS will have to pay the full retirement contribution rate to the system starting in July 2020. The entities opting out of the system will have Tier III employees and all new hires transfer become part of a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401 (k).  Tier I and II employees will have the choice to continue accruing benefits under the current system or opt out for a defined contribution plan. VETOED BY GOV. BEVIN 4-9-19 

Pregnant workers. Senate Bill 18 aims to ensure that pregnant workers are provided reasonable accommodations and safe working environments. The bill states that  “reasonable accommodations” may include more frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, appropriate seating, and private space for expressing breast milk. The provisions of the bill are meant to apply to employers that have 15 or more workers.

School safety.  Senate Bill 1, known as the School Safety and Resiliency Act, calls for establishing a state school safety marshal, conducting risk assessments, boosting safety and prevention training, requiring superintendents to appoint a school safety coordinator, promoting the assignment of a school resource officer to each school, increasing awareness of suicide prevention efforts, encouraging collaboration with law enforcement, and, as funds become available, hiring more counselors in school districts.

Solar energy. Senate Bill 100, dubbed the net metering bill, will change how much owners of solar power systems are reimbursed for electricity they add to the power grid. Under the bill, the Public Service Commission will set the compensation rate. The measure will grandfather in those participating in the current net metering structure for 25 years. In addition, those who install solar panels within the next year will be covered by the grandfather clause. 

Strangulation. Senate Bill 70 will make non-fatal strangulation its own felony crime under Kentucky’s criminal code. 

Student loan debt. House Bill 118, named the Keep Americans Working Act of 2019, will prohibit someone from having an occupational license suspended or revoked because of delinquency on a student loan or work-conditional scholarship. The measure is meant to help keep people with student loan debt out of poverty and in the workforce. 

Taxes. House Bill 354 will provide tax relief to banks and nonprofits in addition to strengthening Kentucky’s ability to collect sales tax on online purchases. The measure will transition the taxation of Kentucky-chartered banks from a franchise tax to state corporate income tax in an attempt to curb the takeover of community banks by banks from states with lower tax rates. It also exempts nonprofits from collecting and remitting sales tax on admissions to charity events in addition to making it clear in statute that sales from one-time fundraising events are not subject to the sales tax. It also will increase tax revenue by requiring online marketplace providers to collect and remit sales tax for sales made using their platform. 

Test Tube Meat: House Bill 311 deems food misbranded if it states it is a meat or meat product but was grown from in vitro animal cells outside of the animal.

Tobacco. House Bill 11 would ban the use of tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping devices on public school campuses, in school vehicles and at school activities beginning with the 2020-21 school year. School districts would have up to three years to opt out of the ban should they choose. The individual districts not opting out will also be able to set the penalties for violating the ban.

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