March 21, 2023
SENATOR WHEELER’S LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
Week 7 of the 2023 Legislative Session
The veto period is upon us, and numerous bills are now on the Governor’s desk awaiting his action. The Governor has 10 days to consider whether he will sign them, allow them to become law without his signature, or veto them. Your General Assembly has worked hard in this sort session to deliver meaningful legislation to the governor protected by the veto override period. Any vetoed legislation will qualify for a legislative override when we return to Frankfort on March 29. Any additional bills fully passed during the final two days of the session will not qualify for a legislative override.
Before highlighting all of the legislation that passed this week, I would like to mention a bill that I personally introduced and that is now heading to the Governor’s desk.
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. When done correctly, securitization is a bit like refinancing a car or house to get a lower interest rate. Previous balances are refinanced through selling high-quality, highly-rated securities to investors with interest and principal payments collected from customers. The PSC’s authority would be limited to applications submitted by utilities on or before December 31, 2024.
Eastern Kentucky has experienced devastating weather events in recent years, including horrific floods and ice storms, resulting in additional customer expenses. Senate Bill 192 will allow securitization for these costs would minimize the rate impact for customers.
Once Senate Bill 192 is signed into law, the estimated cost savings for east Kentuckians who are customers of Kentucky Power could be $10 million annually.
Senate Bill 150 received final passage on March 16, and now heads to the Governor’s desk. Senate Bill 150 does several things, but notably it provides parents with the information they deserve to know regarding their child’s mental health and services offered in school. More importantly, it protects minors from the irreparable harm of sterilizing and ‘gender-affirming’ surgery.
As leftist universities and social ideologues peddle junk science to encourage the U.S. to barrel toward allowing more minor children with gender confusion to get surgery and medical intervention to affirm their new gender identities, several European countries that have been down this path including liberal counties like Sweden and Denmark are pumping the brakes. They have seen the permanent physical and psychological harm this treatment can cause and increased suicide rates amongst this population. Instead of giving these fragile children appropriate mental health treatment and letting them develop naturally, they want to pump these kids up on potentially dangerous hormones which often leads to greater psychological stress.
Other significant Senate bills receiving final passage and delivered to the Governor include:
- Senate Bill 4 is a measure to stand by Kentuckians facing high energy costs due to the federal regulations that have decimated Kentucky’s coal industry. It prohibits the Kentucky Public Service Commission from authorizing the retirement of fossil fuel-fired power plants unless the utility can demonstrate it will replace the retired plant with a new electricity generating capacity that maintains or improves the grid’s reliability. This will make sure that utilities cannot haphazardly rush to retire coal and fossil plants and replace them with corporate welfare from President Joe Biden’s “Green New Deal.”
- Senate Bill 5 ensures parental engagement in decision-making regarding a student’s access to sexually explicit materials that may be inappropriate or harmful to minors by providing parents with a complaint resolution process. Time and time again, parents have reported that adult graphic novels being placed in the elementary and teen sections of school and public libraries. Senate Bill 5 will make sure that kids just get to be kids and that these public facilities will provide age-appropriate reading materials.
- Senate Bill 141 included an agreement between counties and cities on the annexation issue to ensure shared prosperity between cities and counties in future economic growth.
Several House bills made final passage this week are with the Governor for consideration, including:
- House Bill 75 allows hospitals to be reimbursed for outpatient services, pulling down federal resources and saving state funds. Under the bill, hospitals would be able to cover inpatient and outpatient services to better stabilize their finances.
- House Bill 153, Kentucky’s Second Amendment Sanctuary Law, would prevent the federal government from enforcing its own firearms restrictions or prohibit the General Assembly from enacting new gun laws in the future. It applies to federal laws or regulations enacted on firearms, ammunition, and accessories since January 1, 2021.
- House Bill 180 would require health benefit plans to cover biomarker testing for patients diagnosed with cancer and other diseases.
- House Bill 236 would require state public pension funds to base investment decisions on financial risks and returns and not on environmental, social and governance factors, commonly known as ESG. This bill is designed to prevent the use of Kentucky’s pension dollars by large Wall Street banks to attack Kentucky’s coal and gas industries.
- House Bill 268 would establish an advisory committee to review Kentucky’s perinatal care system and make recommendations for improving perinatal outcomes within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
- House Bill 547 protects the religious liberty of students and staff in school settings.
More notable efforts were made on the Department of Juvenile Justice front, as the House gave final passage to Senate Bills 158 and 162, which provide for a full independent audit of the Department of Juvenile Justice and comprehensively reform DJJ, respectively.
House Bill 3 provides $13.4 million to DJJ for the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center renovation, plus $2 million for operation costs if certain conditions are met. It also strengthens parental engagement and cooperation in their child’s diversion program. Starting one year after the bill’s enactment, it mandates that a child taken into custody for violent felony offenses be detained 48 hours before a detention hearing and examined by a qualified mental health professional. Senate modifications to House Bill 3 include allowing community organizers to connect with young people once they are detained and strengthening child abuse and neglect prevention efforts by allowing the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to be referred cases where there are signs of it.
A few additional Senate bills were passed from the chamber and sent to the House, reserving enough time to pass before the session’s end. These are bills believed to have strong bipartisan support where a legislative override of a gubernatorial veto will not be necessary.
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 228 sets an impaired driving limit for marijuana, specifying people are too impaired to drive if they have five nanograms or more of tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, per milliliter in their blood. THC is a crystalline compound and is the main active ingredient of cannabis. The bill includes a presumption that a person is not under the influence of marijuana for a marijuana concentration below four.
Any bills that did not make it to the Governor’s desk this week can still be made law before the session’s end. However, any that are vetoed will not become law, as we will not have time for a veto override.
Senate Bill 47 (medical marijuana), of which I was the primary co-sponsor with Senator Steve West, passed out of the Senate on March 16 and now heads to the House for passage. This marks the first time that medical cannabis legislation was approved in the Senate. The bill is narrowly tailored to provide residents with pain and other serious medical conditions access to non-smokable forms.
If enacted, 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.
The bill is now with the House for consideration. A similar measure to Senate Bill 47 was passed in the House last year but did not have enough support at that time to pass in the Senate. If the House approves the measure in the last two legislative days, it will be delivered to the Governor’s desk for consideration.
The following are Senate bills given final passage and delivered to the Governor: 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 12, 20, 25, 28, 30, 37, 43, 48, 49, 54, 58, 62, 65, 71, 72, 80, 89, 107, 112, 126, 129, 135, 141, 144, 156, 163, 165, 190, 209, 213,226, 229.
The following are House bills given final passage and delivered to the Governor: 3, 4, 13, 76, 130, 148, 154, 157, 160, 167, 164, 165, 170, 172, 176, 188, 200, 210, 228, 232, 237, 241, 264, 287, 288, 302, 313, 380, 387, 391, 393, 429, 433, 436, 442, 444, 502, 506, 534, 538, 547, 542, 587, 146.
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, 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.
Please visit https://legislature.ky.gov/Legislators%20Full%20Res%20Images/senate131.jpg for a high-resolution .jpeg of Wheeler.