FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers considered a final batch of bills Thursday before ending a 60-day session marked by Republicans wielding their supermajority clout to put their stamp on key state policies.
Bills clearing the finish line strengthened health coverage for new mothers and allowed Kentucky students to receive excused absences from school for mental health reasons.
In the most dramatic action on the final day, the House did an about-face and voted to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill giving local political leaders control of public libraries. A day earlier, an override attempt failed in the House. The vote Thursday completed the override of the veto.
The legislature’s GOP supermajorities had already secured passage of key policy priorities when they voted Wednesday to override vetoes on education, taxation and public assistance bills.
Shortly before the session ended, Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer trumpeted the range of issues addressed by lawmakers since the session began in early January.
“It was really more than most of us could have thought to be accomplished when we began this journey 60 legislative days ago,” Thayer said.
But Thayer expressed his disappointment over the failure to legalize sports betting in Kentucky. The measure passed the House but ultimately died in the Senate.
“We just don’t have the votes,” he said. “I think that will change by next year. I will continue to advocate for us adding this to our betting menu.”
Republican House Speaker David Osborne said the results from the session will have “long-term impacts on the citizens of Kentucky.” The accomplishments include changes to the state tax code, budget investments and the amount of money put into public pensions, he said.
“There were just so many things I think will have such lasting benefit,” he said.
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, the top-ranking Senate Democrat, summed it up as “a lot of missed opportunities,” especially during a time of massive budget surpluses.
“We’re getting out of here without passing sports gaming,” he said. “We’re getting out of here without passing medical marijuana (legalization). We could have taken full advantage of the surplus and influx of federal funds to make sure we have things like universal pre-K.”
Lawmakers put the finishing touches on the session Thursday.
The Senate gave final passage to legislation that includes ensuring postpartum Medicaid coverage for low-income mothers for up to a year after giving birth. The proposal is aimed at reducing the state’s chronically high maternal mortality rate.
Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, praised the proposal for focusing on health care at “the most vulnerable time for mom and baby.”
“Despite the increased risk of postpartum death and illness, up to half of women do not receive routine care after birth, regardless of whether they experienced complications during pregnancy or not,” he said in a statement after the bill’s passage.
The House gave final passage to the bill allowing students to receive excused absences from school for mental health reasons. Supporters said the legislation signals the importance of mental health with the goal of removing the stigma of discussing the matter.
Democratic Rep. Lisa Willner called it a “big win” for students, saying it will result in “elevating conversations about mental health.”
The libraries-related bill that was passed over the governor’s objection will allow county judge-executives to appoint members of local public library boards. It also requires county fiscal court approval for capital projects of $1 million or more.
Another bill winning final passage would create a cannabis research center to study the use of cannabis to treat certain medical conditions. It was offered as an alternative to a high-profile bill aimed at legalizing medical marijuana, which stalled in the Senate.
The Senate also gave final passage to a measure intended to protect Kentuckians from frivolous lawsuits that could infringe on their First Amendment rights. Roughly 31 states currently have such laws, but protections vary by state.
Lawmakers wrapped up work on many of the session’s highest-profile bills Wednesday, when Republicans pushed through measures over the governor’s objections. Those measures will allow charter schools to be introduced and funded, tighten rules for public assistance and revamp the state’s tax code, with the goal of gradually phasing out state individual income taxes.
Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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