Kentucky Lawmakers Pass Bills in Eleventh Hour

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The 2020 Legislative session wrapped up around 11:30 PM Wednesday while lawmakers failed to pass a bill to allow businesses to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic — they did send a slew of last-minute bills to Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk.

More than 20 bills were passed in the eleventh hour including pro-life measures. Senate Bill 9 and House Bill 451 were heard at one point simultaneously in both chambers. While the Senate passed HB 451, the House never took it back up to send to Beshear’s desk — because they tacked the contents of that bill onto Senate Bill 9. 

Senate Bill 9, the so-called “Born Alive” measure would require doctors to keep babies alive after a failed abortion or any other type of live birth. Bill sponsor Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, has acknowledged there are no known cases of doctors in Kentucky failing to provide medical care to a baby born in this situation but says it’s about prevention. 

As the measure was debated late into the night, Democrats asked why they are even taking up the measure especially at a time when lawmakers cannot be in the session to voice their opposition.

A floor amendment to the bill added further restrictions on abortions —including allowing the attorney general to ban abortions during a state of emergency — like Kentucky is currently under. Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron has called on Beshear to stop abortions while he is banning elective surgeries during the COVID-19 pandemic, however reproductive health care advocates say abortions are not elective procedures. 

The amendment also added the contents of HB 451, which gives the attorney general the power to regulate abortion facilities.  

House Floor Minority Leader Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, expressed concerns the first part of the measure could prevent doctors from treating high-risk pregnancies in fear of being charged with a felony and said the amendments onto the bill were a power grab from the GOP. 

“This is an ongoing thing we have seen in this session of taking power away from the governor, perhaps because you don’t like the way the election turned out,” she said. “We’ve seen bill after bill, attempt, after attempt, places in the budget that took authority away from the governor, it is my hope that we always have a Democratic in the governor’s seat but we know that’s probably not always going to happen, so as you take more and more authority away from the governor, I may not be here, but there may be a time when you are going to want to give the authority back to the governor. I would say in the last hours, in the last night is very dangerous.” 

The ACLU of Kentucky and Planned Parenthood are calling on Beshear to veto this measure. 

“Now more than ever, science and public health must guide us, not politics,” Jackie McGranahan, ACLU-KY Reproductive Freedom Field Organizer, said in a statement. “This type of restriction on abortion care is an affront to Kentuckians at any time, but the consequences of restricting abortion during a pandemic are even more dire, particularly for people of color and people experiencing poverty.”

Since Beshear is not able to utilize a line-item veto — approving the born-alive measure and vetoing the abortion restrictions, a complete veto could put him in a tough political position in a state that is becoming increasingly pro-life. 

Lawmakers also delivered House Bill 387 to Beshear. The measure sponsored by Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, would create a revolving loan fund for hospitals in a county with 50,000 people or less. If a hospital were at risk of closing they would be able to apply for a loan from the Cabinet for Economic Development. This is meant to help keep rural hospitals afloat, while this measure was crafted before the COVID-19 pandemic it has become increasingly important as rural hospitals struggle to stay afloat as a ban on elective surgeries is costing more than $20 million according to lawmakers. 

The bill also allows unlimited use of the restricted funds for Beshear to purchase PPE as the pandemic continues. 

A bill allowing landlords to seek criminal charges against a tenant also was sent to Beshear. Senate Bill 11, would allow tenants who intentionally damage, deface, or destroy a rental property to be charged with criminal mischief. 

Two constitutional amendments were sent to Secretary of State Michael Adams, for voters to decide in November. 

Senate Bill 15, known as Marsy’s Law was passed on April 14, the measure would create a Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights within the Kentucky Constitution. A similar measure passed in 2018 and was ratified by 63 percent of Kentucky voters but the Kentucky Supreme Court shot down the amendment over the wording of the question on the ballot. 

House Bill 405, will also appear on the November ballot. If approved by voters it would extend the terms of district judges and commonwealth’s attorneys to eight years.