April 7, 2023
SENATOR PHILLIP WHEELER’S LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
Week 8 of the 2023 Legislative Session
The MILLARD SCHOOL VISITS THE CAPITOL, WITH SENATOR WHEELER
The 2023 Regular Session of the General Assembly is now in the history books. Lawmakers returned to Frankfort on Wednesday of last week following the 10-day veto period, in which Governor Andy Beshear was allowed time to consider all legislation that had reached his desk. The Governor vetoed 15 bills in total but, likely given it is an election year, allowed several to go into law without his support (signature).
Several bills filed with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office were measures the Governor had previously expressed criticism of publicly, or his past actions indicate his philosophical disapproval of, such as:
- Senate Bill 4 prevents the retirement of fossil fuel-fired coal plants unless utility companies demonstrate that taking them offline will not harm Kentucky residents or increase their energy costs.
- Senate Bill 5 establishes a process by which parents can challenge questionable sexually explicit materials in their children’s schools.
- Senate Bill 48 adopts the recommendations from the 2022 Cabinet for Health and Family Services Organizational Structure, Operations and Administration Task Force, which is a comprehensive measure correcting some of the current mismanagement within the state’s largest executive branch.
- Senate Bill 75 ensures representation where there is taxation (parking fees) as it relates to residents and travelers in Lexington within the jurisdiction of the Lexington & Fayette County Parking Authority, also known as LexPark. LexPark had recently increased parking fees and extended parking fee hours with little notification to residents and no public comment. SB 75 is similar to past legislation addressing the inappropriate nature of quasi-government agencies, unaccountable to the public, increasing fees on residents with little recourse. The bill ensures that elected officials have to approve any recommended fee increases.
- House Bill 39 changes the governance of the Kentucky Horse Park by amending statutory provisions governing the Kentucky Horse Park Commission.
- House Bill 264 is an economic development measure designed to attract new and maintain existing innovative companies. The bill removes burdens and red tape from companies and allows them to develop innovative products and processes in Kentucky and test those products for a year from overly restrictive laws and regulations. The companies will be supervised during this developmental period by the Kentucky Office of Regulatory Relief created within the Office of the Attorney General.
Senate Bill 65 made administrative regulations found deficient by a legislative committee null and void. Although various administrative regulations were found deficient over the last year, the Governor’s veto message speaks solely to the regulations related to expanding Medicaid coverage for vision, dental, and hearing services.
Members of the General Assembly urged the Beshear administration to refrain from expanding these services until the existing services provided within the Medicaid program – especially the current dental – could be sustained. Kentucky is facing a critical shortage of vision, hearing, and dental providers because of inadequate Medicaid reimbursement rates. Continuing to expand services when the current program is unsustainable and ineffective is an irresponsible policy initiative. The Governor’s veto message failed to mention that the Legislature allowed individuals to continue receiving the services initiated or rendered under the expanded program. In addition, Senate Bill 65 also clarifies that nothing prevents CHFS from increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates for dental, vision, and hearing services that existed before the expansion so that we can encourage more providers to participate in the Medicaid program.
Kentucky’s Medicaid program faces many difficult challenges. Look no further than the waiting list for the Michelle P. Waiver services or the much-needed reimbursement rate adjustments for services provided by long-term care or behavioral health providers. The Governor’s reckless effort to expand these services at a time when there are many other recipients and Medicaid provider needs that are just as relevant and arguably more pressing is irresponsible. The Governor’s message lacks vision, is tone-deaf, and lacks bite in addressing the holistic needs of Kentuckians.
Senate Bill 107—ironically and contrary to the Governor’s rationale in his veto message saying the bill “politicizes the process” of hiring the commissioner of education—mitigates the Governor’s own inappropriate political influence.
Only hours after Governor Beshear was inaugurated on December 10, 2019, he dramatically politicized the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) by completely dissolving the Kentucky Board of Education, appointing Democrats to all eleven voting-member positions, and thereby immediately paving the way for removing the state’s education chief with no just cause, then hiring current KDE Commissioner Jason Glass.
Glass, a journeyman in the education arena, had spent several years in Colorado before accepting the position of KDE commissioner. The indication is he was unsuccessful as a Jefferson County, CO Public Schools superintendent.
Rather than creating “an unnecessary bureaucratic obstacle,” as asserted by Governor Beshear, Senate Bill 107 creates a necessary check and balance for what has sadly become nothing more than a political bureaucrat.
Senate Bill 122 does more than just give us access to parking. Generally, it gives the LRC control over its own space instead of the executive branch having control. There will still be plenty of parking for visitors, but the LRC will allocate the spaces around our building as they see fit. Additionally, it gives LRC more control over the janitorial services for the annex.
Senate Bill 126 was referred to in the Governor’s veto message as an ‘unconstitutional power grab.’ The bill is a clean-up to 2021’s House Bill 3 and sets the automated process and procedure in ensuring Kentucky residents have logistical recourse in redress of their grievances against state law, executive order, or administrative regulation by allowing for a change of venue to a court closer to where they live.
Kentucky courts hold that venue is ‘purely a legislative matter.’ The Franklin Circuit Court, where cases go by default, should not hold a monopoly on hearing challenges to the constitutionality of important legislative enactments.
Governor Beshear is incorrect in insisting Senate Bill 126 will ‘force Kentuckians to challenge the constitutionality of government actions in places where they do not live.’ The reality is that after the 2021 session, plaintiffs who justly challenged the constitutionality of his executive actions could finally redress their grievances in their home counties and courts. Before 2021’s House Bill 3, residents from 119 counties had to travel to Franklin County to challenge and seek redress from the courts. The Governor never came to the defense of those Kentuckians. Senate Bill 126 is simple, and automating processes in place should not cause the costs or delays the Governor imagines in his veto of the bills.
We were also disappointed by the Governor’s last-minute veto of Senate Bill 226, which would provide a streamlined approach to carrying out obligations under the federal Clean Water Act. The bill was carefully drafted to ensure those obligations are carried out consistently with the act and that economic development is not hampered by personal political beliefs that skew what is legal. The legislature stands with Kentucky residents and industries that fuel our economy and overrode the grossly misguided and legally indefensible veto.
Senate Bill 241 makes amendments to statutory law, directing the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) to acquire the Kentucky Cumberland Forest conservation easement responsibilities in southeast Kentucky that under 2022’s Senate Bill 217 were to be the responsibility of the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet. The bill allows KDFWR to work with third parties to conduct due diligence and exempts the easement acquisitions from the requirement that KDFWR notify the owners of mineral interests under the properties so long as coal mining will not be inhibited. Under the bill, land surveys do not have to be completed before closing so long as the party escrows the funds needed to reconcile acreage differences upon completion of the surveys.
The bill requires the Finance and Administration Cabinet to deliver all documents relating to the due diligence it has already performed to the department on the act’s effective date and provides that the previously allocated funds for the Kentucky Cumberland Forest Conservation Program shall carry forward.
To facilitate the Department’s new procurement authority and much of the Department’s work, the bill allows for the creation of one or more engineering services selection committees to be established in Fish and Wildlife and sets the membership of the committees.
The bill prohibits the Finance and Administration Cabinet from excluding the Department from any contracts available to multiple state agencies for the procurement of goods or services and exempts the department from any section of 45A that requires the approval of the Finance Cabinet for the department to proceed with any aspect of the procurement process.
The bill has an emergency clause so it will be effective when the General Assembly overrides the Governor’s veto.
The governor’s veto of Senate Bill 150 came as no surprise as he put his party’s politics over the people of Kentucky.
The bill aims to strengthen parental engagement and communication in their children’s education. It cleared the Senate with bipartisan support. The bill reinforces a positive atmosphere in the classroom and removes unnecessary distractions, such as social pressures mandating the use of ‘preferred pronouns’ in our schools. SB 150 provides expected privacy rights for restrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms that align with a child’s biological sex. Perhaps most importantly, Senate Bill 150 prohibits the use of chemical-altering drugs for minor children and ‘gender-affirming care’ that includes genital mutilation of minor children incapable of consenting to such irreparable life-altering decisions.
Additional bill vetoes overridden include House Bills 4, 329, 395, 519, 568 and House Joint Resolution 60.
Several additional House and Senate bills were delivered to the Governor in the final two days of session. Unlike the aforementioned bills, the following will not qualify for a veto override. If vetoed, they will not become state law until at least after the 2023 Legislative Session.
- House Bill 9 is a very important bill that I carried for Representative Richard Heath in the Senate and which passed unanimously. House Bill 9 creates the GRANT program, which stands for Government Resources Accelerating Needed Transformation. The main objective of House Bill 9 is to seize on an extraordinary opportunity to leverage Kentucky’s state tax dollars efficiently towards significant public projects that will revitalize our rural communities. This bill creates a framework that allows local governments, non-profits, public agencies, or a coalition of those organizations to apply for the matching component of federal grants.
At the federal level, over $3 trillion dollars have been authorized towards programs aimed at economic and workforce development, infrastructure, substance use disorder programs, STEM education, housing, and more. The Kentucky Department for Local Government will administer the GRANT Program. The Council for Area Development Districts and Area Development Districts will help identify grant opportunities and assist in the application process. Upon DLG’s award of matching grants, the applicant will proceed to the federal application process. The state will only release the matching grant upon receipt of the federal grant, meaning that our state dollars will always be leveraged against federal dollars.
By design, the GRANT program permits these entities to pursue a broad and inclusive array of federal grants that provide a public purpose and are in the public’s interest, but House Bill 9 stipulates that eligible projects must benefit the federally identified priority communities in eastern and western Kentucky.
This legislation is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Kentucky to maximize its resources and secure federal funding for significant public projects. Our neighboring states of West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana have recently passed similar legislation and invested up to $500 million dollars to bolster their ability to compete for this same federal funding. In reviewing the success of Indiana’s program, they have been able to leverage their $500 million investment into another $9.86 billion of federal and private dollars.
I can’t stress enough how unique and important this opportunity is for Kentucky. These communities need significant help, and House Bill 9 enables us to maximize our resources in that effort. Given the successes we’ve seen in Indiana as well as the legislation passed last year by Ohio and West Virginia, we need to take action to ensure we get our fair share for our people.
- Senate Bill 263 is a bill that I worked on with the Energy and Environmental Cabinet 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 residents 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. Governor Beshear has expressed that he intends to sign this important legislation for our rural service areas.
- Senate Bill 40, “the Micah Shantell Fletcher Law,” which I introduced, assists law enforcement agencies in closing out unsolved death cases and will assist families in determining whether that they have a dangerous genetic abnormality that puts them at risk of a sudden cardiac death. Shantell Fletcher was an 18-year-old young lady found dead at an apartment complex with no apparent injuries. Her body was sent to the state medical examiner where the cause of death came back as “undetermined”. Shantell’s mother did not give up on finding out what killed her daughter and through genetic testing she was able to determine that Shantell suffered from a genetic heart abnormality that could have been treated if detected earlier. While it was too late for Shantell, her family was able to get tested to make sure that they did not carry this dangerous genetic abnormality.
Senate Bill 40 would require the state medical examiner to conduct genetic testing on decedents under 40 in the case of unexpected deaths where the cause of death is undetermined. If genetic test results determine the cause of death, the notice of the death must be reported to the state registrar of vital statistics, which must then record the cause of death on the death certificate. Governor Beshear has announced his intention to sign this important bill on April 7, 2023.
- Senate Bill 47 (Medical Marijuana), of which I was the primary co-sponsor along with Senator Steve West, passed out of the Senate on March 16 and was passed by the House on March 31, 2023. This marks the first time that Medical cannabis legislation was approved in the State Senate. The bill is narrowly tailored to provide residents with pain and other serious medical conditions access to non-smokable forms.
The bill would take effect on January 1, 2025. Before accessing cannabis, patients must register and receive approval for a special identification card. Patients under 18 years old would not be allowed to possess, purchase, or acquire medicinal cannabis without the assistance of a designated caregiver. Senate Bill 47 would also create separate licenses for cultivators, dispensers and producers. It would also give the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services great oversight and latitude in developing regulations.
Several medical conditions could qualify someone to use the product, including cancer, chronic and other types of pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, chronic nausea, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
I was proud to be present when Governor Beshear signed Senate Bill 47 into law on March 31, 2023.
- House Bill 551 (Sports Betting) passed the Senate and House on March 30, 2023. Kentucky is one of 17 states where sports betting is prohibited and unregulated. Missouri is the lone exception to Kentucky’s surrounding states that allow some form of sports betting. House Bill 551 would legalize, regulate, and tax sports wagering in Kentucky. Notably, net proceeds would be earmarked for the permanent pension fund in the General Fund. Estimates say sports wagering could generate approximately $23 million per year. House Bill 551 was signed by Governor Beshear on March 31, 2023.
I was very proud of my legislative accomplishments for Eastern Kentucky this session including the passage and signing into law of Senate Bill 192, which provides limited authority to the Public Services Commission (PSC) to a financial mechanism known as “securitization” to lessen the costs of the Big Sandy Rider on Kentucky Power bills and would result in savings of $7million to $10 million per years for ratepayers within the Kentucky Power service region.
In addition, I successfully sponsored bills like Senate Bill 263 to improve infrastructure in rural Kentucky. I am also proud to have carried House Bill 9 in the Kentucky State Senate, a bill which gives Eastern Kentucky the potential of drawing down billions in federal grant dollars to revitalize our economy after the devastation of Obama’s War on Coal.
I also co-sponsored important Bills like Senate Bill 150 to protect children, Senate Bill 47 to provide for safe and legal access to medical cannabis, and Senate Bill 4 to support continued use of Eastern Kentucky coal to generate electricty. Legislation is a team effort, and I am proud to be a part of the team that makes up Kentucky’s Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate.
The 2023 session was a 30-day, non-budget session. Some bills were heard in legislative committees but ultimately did not make it over the finish line. Although some measures were not enacted, it is not to say they nor their advocate’s efforts are in vain. Beginning in June, we will enter the 2023 Interim period where more in-depth policy discussions will continue in anticipation of next year’s 60-day legislative session.
I encourage you to stay engaged in the legislative process. You can find a listing of all enacted bills and those pending with the Governor by visiting legislature.ky.gov. You can find archived legislative coverage at KET.org/legislature/archives.
Senator Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, represents Kentucky’s 31st Senate District, including Elliott, Johnson, Lawrence, Martin, and Pike Counties. Wheeler is vice chair of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor, and the Senate Judiciary committees. He is also Capital Planning Advisory Board co-chair. Additionally, Wheeler serves as a member of the Senate Transportation, Natural Resources and Energy, State and Local Government, and Transportation committees. Wheeler recently served on the 2022 Interim Benefits Cliff Task Force.