SENATOR WHEELER’S LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
We now have another short, 30-day General Assembly session in the books. Your Senate and House of Representatives worked diligently to pass strong legislation benefitting the whole Commonwealth of Kentucky.
“Short” sessions are intended to clean up or tweak laws passed in previous years, and this year’s session not only accomplished that but also saw several pieces of landmark legislation passed by both chambers.
Medical marijuana was likely the most talked about legislative win of the session. After five years of tireless efforts by legislators and supporters of the cause, Senate Bill 47 was pushed over the finish line and signed into law. It will provide non-opioid palliative support for those suffering from specific illnesses. Many view this as a tremendous advance for residents wishing for more holistic treatment options and improved quality of life.
Sports wagering was another hot-button issue long in the works which finally received passage through both chambers. With our state’s prolific horse racing industry and the well-established wagering system already in place, it seemed only natural to extend gaming to other sports as our neighbor states have. If you choose to participate, you can feel good that revenue from wagering will fund the Permanent State Employee Pension Fund and the Problem Gambling Fund.
Amongst a slate of high-profile but important bills passed this session, the General Assembly addressed the growing concerns over minors being exposed to adult content in schools. We voted on and passed a bill expanding parental rights over the quality of literature found in schools and providing a framework to oust sexually explicit materials. Protecting the rights of teachers and students, we included a provision to prevent mandated non-conforming pronoun usage along with giving parents a chance to review sexual education curricula and opt their children out if that parent finds it offensive.
The 2023 General Assembly also listened to the concerns of most commonwealth residents and voted to ban permanent surgical and hormonal gender transitioning in minors. This is a growing trend nationwide, causing irreparable physical and mental harm to children. The bill also addressed gender-neutral restrooms in schools by requiring students to use the restroom matching the gender of their birth.
Workforce development took a front seat during the session this year, as we passed 52 bills through both chambers that, in some measures, remove administrative barriers to getting a job, make it easier to get a job or enhance the overall job market. The primary focus was easing workforce shortages and challenges in healthcare and education.
Affecting the 31st Senate District directly were three bills that I sponsored and one that I carried in the Senate for Representative Richard Heath. Senate Bill 192 will permit Kentucky Power to refinance the Big Sandy Power Plant decommissioning rider, lowering monthly electric bills for families throughout eastern Kentucky. Senate Bill 4 was a bill that I co-sponsored with Senate Robby Mills that will require investor-owned utilities to consider Grid-reliability when trying to retire a coal-powered plant. This will encourage utilities to continue using coal-fired generation until the technology is in place to transition to other fuel sources responsibly and reliably. Senate Bill 263 creates a financial incentive package for rural utilities to consolidate and work more efficiently. Finally, I carried House Bill 9 in the Senate, creating a draw-down fund to access billions of dollars in federal grant money for economies like Eastern Kentucky that have been devastated by Washington’s War on Coal.
A major win for working Kentuckians was the legislature approving an additional half percentage income tax decrease. An additional tax decrease is coming at the start of 2024. This is all part of the General Assembly’s commitment to strengthen Kentucky’s economy, which largely depends on a competitive and modern tax structure that makes Kentucky an attractive place for businesses to flourish and families to reside.
Lawmakers will soon enter the 2023 Interim period, where work to develop an agenda for the 2024 Legislative Session begins. The primary focus in next year’s 60-day session will be the biennial state budget and road plan.
Know I am working hard to address your most pressing concerns and always welcome your thoughts on what will make sound policies that advance Kentucky. Please reach out to my office at Phillip.Wheeler@lrc.ky.gov or call the legislative hotline (800)372-7181 with your thoughts or ideas.
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.