March 10, 2023
SENATOR WHEELER’S LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
Week 6 of the 2023 Legislative Session
The 2023 Legislative Session is in the home stretch, with only six more days before we enter the veto period. Next week we will be in session Monday through Thursday with two days being for the House and Senate chambers to find agreement on any qualifying legislation. Friday, March 17 will begin the 10-day veto period until Tuesday, March 29 for the Governor to consider all legislation lawmakers have sent to his desk.
The session’s week six began to include the House and Senate chambers taking the other’s bills into consideration through legislative committees, giving several final passages and sending them to the Governor’s desk.
Bills sent to the Governor for consideration in week six included measures addressing:
- Teacher workforce shortages (Senate Bill 49) and providing professional development opportunities to educators (Senate Bill 70).
- Unemployment insurance (House Bill 146).
- Educational opportunities and workforce challenges (Senate Bill 54).
- Strengthening Kentucky’s rich spirits industry and helping small farm wineries (Senate Bill 28).
Bills and resolutions approved by the Senate in week six and now with the state House of Representatives for consideration include:
The first bill I would like to highlight is one that I personally introduced. Senate Bill 192 provides limited authority to the Public Services Commission (PSC) to authorize utilities in certain circumstances to utilize a financial mechanism known as “securitization” to recover costs associated with the retirement of power plants and other significant assets and costs incurred in severe weather events. The PSC’s authority would be limited to applications submitted by utilities on or before December 31, 2024. If enacted, this would result in savings of $7million to $10 million per years for ratepayers within the Kentucky Power service region. This bill is now in the House, and I encourage constituents to contact their Representatives and voice their approval for Senate Bill 192.
Senate Bill 263 is another bill that sponsored that would provide a regulatory framework for the improvement of rural water systems that are in desperate need of funds. We have seen in places like Martin County and Rattlesnake Ridge what can happen when aging infrastructure fails leaving Kentucky’s poorest resident vulnerable and with high bills.
Senate Bill 263 would establish the Infrastructure Revolving Fund to enhance the effectiveness, reliability, and resilience of water and wastewater systems and use regionalization, merger, and consolidation to make sure that as many areas as possible have safe, reliable drinking water that is delivered in an economic manner through economies of scale. Participation in a consolidation program will be completely voluntary; however, water districts, counties, and cities who choose to participate will have access to additional funds to work on aging infrastructure.
Senate Bill 96 strengthens Kentucky’s competitiveness with neighboring states, specifically benefitting rural communities seeking additional means of economic opportunity and tourism attractions, and opens Kentucky to multi-million-dollar investments. It would set a framework for local governments to grant permits for racing events as long as conditions are met on insurance, security, and emergency services. Additionally, the bill would allow local governments to temporarily close roadways, reroute traffic, and waive traffic regulations for the events.
Senate Bill 108 covers several areas related to motor vehicles. It stipulates that for a speeding violation of five miles per hour or less over the limit, a person will receive a courtesy warning instead of a ticket. It also requires an owner or attendant of a privately owned parking lot to wait 24 hours before having a vehicle towed if a person experiences an incident or emergency requiring them to leave the vehicle unattended. Additionally, it clarifies the procedure for claiming personal belongings from a vehicle that has been towed and stored. It requires a jailer to return a valid operator’s license upon a person’s release unless needed for evidentiary purposes. It also allows for proof of a valid driver’s license and vehicle registration electronically.
Senate Bill 115 is a simple bill that I co-sponsored consisting of barely over one page. It would protect children from exposure to sexually explicit performances in the public square. It defines “adult performance” as a sexually explicit performance. This would include a live performance or a performance involving male or female impersonators who provide entertainment to sexually arouse or appeal to sexual desires, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration, which taken as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. A person would be guilty of engaging in an adult performance when the performance is held on publicly-owned property or in a location where the person knows—or should know—that the adult performance could be viewed by a person under 18. The bill outlines penalties for participants and business owners knowingly exposing minors to sexually explicit performances. We need to protect our children from being sexualized by woke liberals and let them have a normal childhood. Just as it would be inappropriate for a parent to take a minor to a strip club, children do not need to be exposed to sexually explicit performances in public spaces which are often mislabled as “family friendly” shows.
Senate Bill 138 establishes guidelines helping the Education and Professional Standards Board to improve the certification of substitute teachers. The measure will serve to address workforce challenges within school systems. The bill creates three certification categories for substitute teacher applicants after state-required preliminary screenings and background checks.
Senate Bill 145 removes the athletic eligibility language preventing non-resident students, such as home school students, from participating in interscholastic athletics for one calendar year from the transfer date. It returns the governance of all non-resident student participation in interscholastic athletics Kentucky High School Athletics Association.
Senate Bill 162 is the start of a long-term reformation of DJJ and a commitment to finally address the needs of juveniles with serious mental illness. The bill carries an emergency designation meaning it would take effect immediately upon filing with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s Office.
Major provisions of Senate Bill 162 include:
- Investment of over $55 million in the next two years to support comprehensive reforms within the system. (Sections 7-12)
- Transitioning DJJ back to a regional model while continuing to segregate males and females, and violent and non-violent offenders. (section 5)
- Section one reorganizes DJJ, including:
- Creating a Division of Compliance and an Office of Detention and requiring the eight DJJ centers to be under one person’s supervision who reports directly to the DJJ commissioner. This office will house the Division of Transportation.
- Moving the Division of Professional Development under the Office of Support Services.
- Requiring the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to maintain a comprehensive, centralized data tracking system for DJJ. (section 2)
- Reforms membership and responsibilities of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council. (section 3)
- Setting requirements for DJJ facilities and requiring DJJ to enter into sufficient contracts to ensure the availability of institutional treatment for children with severe emotional disturbance or mental illness as soon as practical. (section 4).
- Requires the Kentucky Department of Medicaid to take steps to provide benefits to eligible detained children. (section 6)
- Establishing staff retention measures and addressing workforce needs by implementing a Youth Worker-R program to bring retired workers back into facilities (section 5) and providing employee professional development opportunities.
- Implementing a limited duration program to allow previously resigned staff to return to employment classifications with the department’s approval.
- The substantial appropriations in the legislation demonstrate the seriousness of the crisis and the Senate’s commitment to finding short and long-term solutions.
Senate Bill 190 establishes parameters regarding city government’s reforming elections and better ensures a fair election process by those seeking city council. It requires any ordinance eliminating a nonpartisan primary or repealing an ordinance eliminating a nonpartisan primary to be filed with the county clerk in the year before a city election is held. It also requires any redistricting to be completed by November in the year before an election. Additionally, Senate Bill 190 modernizes the resignation process by allowing resignations to be delivered by email and provides an effective resignation date if the resignation email or letter does not identify one. There have been cases in Kentucky where a candidate for a city office was removed from contention because reforms were made to city councils after the candidate had already filed. Residents who vote in city elections deserve transparency and fair elections; this bill will help assure that.
Senate Bill 202 is a measure to address the increasing challenges related to student behavior our teachers and school administrators are dealing with regularly. The bill provides local school boards more flexibility to place students into alternative learning programs if the student is considered a safety threat or is likely to cause a substantial disruption by allowing an expulsion to expand beyond one year. Students are to be placed—with review by the superintendent and due process for the parent—in an alternative education setting that may include, but is not limited to, a virtual program or academy and may include a performance-based program.
Senate Bill 203 places safeguards on medical records, including mental health records, when released in a divorce or custody proceeding, and strengthens patient-doctor relationships. Sets certain privacy standards on releasing information, such as requiring records to only refer to the patient by initials, protecting their personally identifiable information (PII). The patient and medical provider must be notified if records are disclosed and provided the opportunity to appear and argue against that disclosure in a court case. The hearing must be held in a manner that protects the PII. Additionally, a court will only grant a motion to disclose the information if other means are unavailable or ineffective. Disclosure will be limited to essential information only. The disclosure must protect the patient and the patient-doctor relationship.
Senate Bill 226 streamlines the environmental permitting process for coal mining and other industrial operations to create jobs and bolster Kentucky’s economy. It sets specific deadlines for the Energy and Environment Cabinet to process applications for water quality certifications and water discharge permits. It prohibits the cabinet from delaying its consideration of a permit application until the applicant secures a federal permit. Finally, it establishes reasonable and practical standards for evaluating the protection of threatened and endangered species. This bill is designed to help our coal industry and get our miners back to work.
Senate Bill 241 provides the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources with autonomy in specific land procurement areas. There are approximately 54,000 acres of land in Knox, Bell, and Leslie counties aiming to become part of a three-state elk habitat. This bill enables an initiative between Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, to move forward. When completed, it would allow for hunting and other recreational activities. Senate Bill 141 clarifies the transition process of conservation easements and addresses issues and conflicts related to the Kentucky Finance Cabinet’s role in implementing the legislature’s intent. Finally, it creates an engineering and engineering-related services selection committee within the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and sets membership and responsibilities.
Senate Bill 148 would establish the Government Teleworking Task Force. It is important that your state government is functioning effectively and is responsive to your needs. We have an incredible increase in state employees working from home in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; some still have not returned to an office setting. The task force would be challenged to investigate and make recommendations regarding the following:
- How the on-site presence of state employees can be reduced and cost savings realized now that many workers have transitioned to different teleworking models;
- How much in-person work hours have decreased since the pandemic and whether and to what extent has public service suffered due to the decrease; and
- What in-person staffing levels are necessary for the state government to maintain a high level of in-person customer service for residents.
Task force membership would consist of four state House of Representatives and four Senate members, which the House Speaker and Senate President will appoint. The Government Teleworking Task Force would meet at least monthly during the 2023 Interim.
Senate Bill 277 enhances dam safety by requiring emergency action plans for certain at-risk dams in the commonwealth. It aligns state laws with federal regulations about flood plain management, updates statutory language to reflect current federal and state program practices, and repeals outdated statutory language. It would also set certain requirements for dam owners and make certain exemptions.
Senate Bill 282 adds hit-and-run accidents to the definition of criminally injurious conduct. It increases the award caps for awards to crime victims from the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which has not been increased since the 1970s and 1980s. The bill would increase the lost wages for financial support caps from $150 a week to $300 a week so victims of crime will receive the financial support needed to recover from their injuries and losses. It would increase the funeral and burial expense cap from $5,000 to $7,500, providing more significant financial support to families who have lost a loved one to a crime. Additionally, Senate Bill 282 would increase the overall cap award for medical and mental health counseling expenses from $25,000 to $30,000, recognizing the high cost of medical treatment and counseling services for victims of crime.
Senate Joint Resolution 58 establishes the Brigadier General Charles Young Memorial Historic corridor from Camp Nelson through Mason County and to the National Buffalo Soldiers Memorial in Ohio and allows the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) and the tourism cabinet to erect signs along the corridor denoting attractions or historically significant locations about Brigadier General Charles Young. It also directs the Kentucky and Ohio transportation agencies to promote the corridor as a regional attraction, which will play a role in Kentucky’s rich tourism industry. Even more importantly, this effort honors a great Kentuckian and American hero.
General Charles Young was born in Mays Lick, Kentucky, on March 12, 1864. General Young was the third Black cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1889. General Young’s military career spanned 33 years until his death on January 8, 1922. General Charles Young was the highest-ranking Black member of the US Armed Forces at the time of his death. He was posthumously granted the promotion to brigadier general on October 6, 2021.
Senate Joint Resolution 98 looks to ensure our postsecondary education institutions are keeping up with the needs of students. It would require the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) to study public universities and community and technical colleges and require the CPE president to report findings to the Legislative Research Commission and at least to the Interim Joint Committees (IJC) on Economic Development and Workforce Investment and the IJC on Education by December 1, 2023.
Senate Joint Resolution 101 seeks solutions to make it easier for residents in rural counties to get their instructional permits in light of the state’s transition to regional driver licensing services. The resolution would direct the Kentucky State Police to establish a pilot program of remote testing for instruction permits in counties that do not have a regional driver licensing office. Minimum requirements would have to be met concerning the pilot program, such as requiring regular testing intervals, coordination with local libraries and high schools to have a host location for testing, exploration of technological innovations that could allow someone to oversee remote testing and verify exam results, and coordinating testing schedules with pop-up remote drivers licensing services. KSP would be directed to collect data and pilot program results and report to the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation no later than November 30, 2023.
Additional Senate Bills passed included: 101, 199, 252, 263, and 281
House Bills given final passage included: 13, 130, 188, 232
Watch live legislative activity at KET.org/legislature. You can also track the status of other legislation by calling 866-840-2835, legislative meeting information at 800-633-9650, or leaving a message for lawmakers at 800-372-7181.
Senator Phillip Wheeler
Kentucky State Senate, District 31
Commonwealth of Kentucky
Capitol Annex, Rm. 215 | 702 Capital Ave. | Frankfort, KY 40601 | 502-564-8100 ext. 59261