Medical marijuana, sports betting & drag ban: What could still pass the ’23 KY legislature

·4 min read
Timothy D. Easley/AP

The end of the 2023 Kentucky General Assembly is near.

Lawmakers ushered through dozens of bills last week before the veto recess began, but there’s still two more days before they adjourn sine die and head home until 2024.

Anything passed by the Republican-dominated legislature the final two days of session — March 29 and 30 — runs the risk of being vetoed by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear without the possibility of a legislative override.

Here’s what could still make moves — and what appears to be dead in the water.

What bills could still pass?

Public drag show ban: Senate Bill 115, the ban on drag shows in public or where children could see, passed the full Senate on a party-line vote — with one Republican passing — earlier this month after a heated debate. The House of Representatives received the bill on March 13, but didn’t give it a first reading until March 16, the last day before the veto recess. Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, attempted to attach a drag ban amendment to another bill, but his effort was unsuccessful. Senate Bill 115 has time to receive two more reads and final passage by sine die.

Medical marijuana: This could be the year that Kentucky lawmakers finally vote to legalize medical marijuana. Senate Bill 47 passed the Senate on March 16, making it the first time the upper house has voted on the issue. A similar measure legalizing medical cannabis has passed the House in previous years, and political observers expect representatives will pass it again this year, too. Beshear has previously chastised the legislature for failing to act on this issue, so he’s unlikely to veto the bill should it pass.

Bourbon barrel tax: House Bill 5, from House Appropriations & Revenue Chair Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, seeks to phase out the tax on ‘stored spirits’ — hence the ‘bourbon barrel tax’ nickname — by 2039 in the hopes of keeping the booming industry in Kentucky. The House passed the bill 58-41, with divisions taking place within the Democratic and Republican caucuses and many lawmakers from bourbon-producing counties opposing the measure. The bill has two readings in the Senate.

Sports betting: House Bill 551, from Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, would legalize sports betting in Kentucky, imposing a tax that’s estimated to bring in around $23 million in annual revenue to the commonwealth. The bill has passed in the House and from a Senate committee, but the full Senate has yet to vote. It has two of the three needed readings in the Senate, but Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said there’s “a pretty tall mountain we still have to climb,” before final passage is attained.

KET board appointees: Senate Bill 104 would remove all governor-appointed members of the board that oversees Kentucky Educational Television and make all new governor appointments subject to Senate approval. Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, put forth the bill after learning that Beshear had appointed both Crystal Staley, the governor’s communications director, and Leah Adkins, the wife of top Beshear advisor and former House Democratic leader Rocky Adkins. The bill passed the Senate earlier this month and has two readings in the House, so it could get final passage after the veto recess.

Teacher misconduct: House Bill 288 would make it more difficult for teachers who have been accused of prior sexual misconduct to move from one school district to another. It unanimously passed the House in early March and has received two of the three needed reads in the Senate, but has not yet received a vote in the full chamber.

What bills are likely dead?

The first rule of the Kentucky General Assembly is never say a measure is dead until the legislature has adjourned sine die, but with just two days left in a 30-day session, chances are the following bills aren’t going anywhere.

Campus concealed carry: House Bill 542 from Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, would have allowed many students to carry concealed guns on college and university campuses, had it become law. But despite passing out of committee and being in the orders of the day for a few days, Maddox said the bill was dead and asked her supporters to consider “why it is that a 2nd Amendment bill failed to have the votes within the House Majority Caucus.”

Abortion bills: Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike filed a total of five bills concerning abortion this legislative session, but none made it even as far as a committee hearing. Among the dead legislation was a bill that would criminalize abortion as murder, a proposed constitutional amendment similar to what voters rejected in November and added exceptions for rape, incest and fetal abnormalities.