This Week at the State Capitol
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Major bills advancing on juvenile justice and gender services
FRANKFORT — State lawmakers spent the fifth week of the 2023 legislative session welcoming a new member to the ranks and debating a wave of high-profile bills on juvenile justice, gray machines, gender services and adult performances.
The Kentucky General Assembly only has 10 days left in the session, and virtually all of the most prominent bills are hanging in the balance. That means lawmakers face a busy schedule ahead before they break for potential vetoes on March 16, and the accelerating pace was already evident this week.
The House passed legislation on Kentucky’s troubled juvenile justice system out of committee and off the chamber floor on Tuesday.
House Bill 3 seeks to reopen the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center and expand options for mental health care and restorative justice. It would also require that children taken into custody for a violent felony offense be detained a maximum of 48 hours before receiving a detention hearing and an evaluation on mental health and substance use disorders.
In addition, HB 3 would make violent youth offenses subject to open records for three years.
The Senate advanced a broader reform package out of committee Wednesday that seeks a comprehensive overhaul of juvenile justice – one that returns to a regional model of detention.
Senate Bill 162 would place all eight of Kentucky’s juvenile detention centers under one office with a lead supervisor who reports directly the commissioner. Among many other changes, the bill would increase staffing and training, enhance mental health interventions, and provide better segregation of violent offenders.
On Thursday, the focus turned toward adult performances when the Senate passed Senate Bill 115 out of committee following some charged debate.
The bill would prohibit sexually-explicit performances on publically-owned property or in locations where the performances could be viewed by minors. That would include performances “involving male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest,” according to the bill.
Later in the day, the House advanced a measure on gender transition services out of committee and off the House floor, generating similar contention among legislators.
House Bill 470 would create broad prohibitions against what the bill describes as “gender transition services” for anyone under age 18, including the use of puberty blockers, hormones and surgery. It would also block any public funding for such services and establish legal liability for claims against health care providers who facilitate the services.
During an emotional debate, lawmakers sparred over medical evidence related to the issue. Supporters said the bill is needed to protect children from life-altering drugs and procedures, but critics said it will harm the mental health of transgender youths and interfere with parental rights.
The measure now heads to the Senate.
Lawmakers also worked into the evening on Thursday to pass a much-watched bill on gray machines, also called skill games, out of committee. House Bill 594 would clarify that gray machines are illegal in Kentucky; however, the measure was tabled on the House floor on Friday.
In the meantime, one new lawmaker has joined the action. Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, was sworn into the Senate on Thursday, filling the vacant seat of former state senator and now U.S. Rep. Morgan McGarvey.
Here’s a look at some of the other legislation moving through the process this week:
Autonomous Vehicles: House Bill 135 would provide a regulatory framework for the use of fully autonomous vehicles on public highways. The House Transportation Committee passed the bill Tuesday.
Animal Abuse: House Bill 103 would increase the penalty for torturing a dog or cat from a class A misdemeanor on the first offense to a class D felony. It would also expand the definition of torture for this statute. The bill won approval in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Drug Test Strips: House Bill 353 would remove fentanyl test strips from state prohibitions on drug paraphernalia. It passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Personal Identification: House Bill 21 would help individuals who lack permanent housing obtain a driver’s license or personal identification card. It cleared the House floor on Wednesday.
Kentucky Bar Association: House Bill 225 would lift requirements for licensed attorneys to join or pay membership dues to the Kentucky Bar Association. The measure received approval in the House on Wednesday.
Safe at Home Act: Senate Bill 79 would expand the Address Confidentiality Program in the Secretary of State’s Office, allowing victims of domestic violence, stalking and human trafficking to participate without a judicial protective order. It would also mask the addresses of those victims on more public records. The bill cleared the Senate floor on Wednesday.
Tracking Devices: Senate Bill 199 would outlaw the installation of tracking devices on motor vehicles without the consent of the vehicle owner or lessee. It passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
DUI Restitution: The Senate Judiciary Committee also passed Senate Bill 268 on Thursday. The legislation would allow courts to order restitution for children whose parents are killed or permanently disabled by an intoxicated driver.
Student Discipline: Senate Bill 202 would give local school boards more flexibility to place students into alternative learning programs if the student considered a safety threat or is likely to cause a substantial disruption. The Senate Education Committee advanced the bill on Thursday. A separate measure related to student expulsions, House Bill 538, cleared the House floor on Friday.
Unemployment Insurance: House Bill 146 cleared the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Labor on Thursday. It would set the minimum duration of unemployment benefits to 16 weeks – instead of 12 – and call on state unemployment officials to advise claimants on scholarship opportunities.
Student Vaccines: House Bill 101 would prevent the Kentucky Board of Education from requiring students to have a COVID-19 vaccine to attend school. The bill advanced Thursday out of the House Health Services Committee.
Teacher Misconduct: House Bill 288 seeks stronger requirements for disclosing teacher misconduct. It also sets forth a process to vet candidates more thoroughly and act decisively when allegations have been investigated and confirmed. The measure cleared the House floor on Thursday.
License Plate Readers: Under Senate Bill 129, entities that use automated license plate readers would be prohibited from selling that data or retaining it for more than 90 days, with some exceptions. SB 129 passed off the Senate floor Friday.
Child Abuse: Senate Bill 229 seeks to ensure that law enforcement, social services and other authorities are properly notified and communicating in cases of child abuse. The full Senate advanced the bill on Friday.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Frankfort on Tuesday for day 21 of the session.
Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to follow a bill’s progression through the chambers.