Kentucky lawmakers passed more than 170 new laws running the gamut from child abuse, drug addiction, gambling, mental health education and civil rights for LGBTQ people during this year’s legislative session.
Under Kentucky’s Constitution, new laws take effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns, and for most laws that date was Thursday, June 29. Exceptions include bills that have special effective dates, general appropriation measures and those with emergency clauses, which make them effective immediately , according to the Legislation Research Commission.
Child abuse: Senate Bill 229 — SB 229, sponsored by state Sen. Jule Raque Adams, R-Louisville, clarifies and strengthens how child abuse and neglect is reported in the Commonwealth. Its provisions streamline the reporting and investigation process, for example, cutting down on the number of reports that have to be made. The state has ranked No. 1 in child abuse for three years running, including during the pandemic, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Child murder: House Bill 249 – HB 249 makes the intentional killing of a child under the age of 12 an aggravating circumstance in cases where the death penalty is possible. Named Kimber’s Law, it reportedly takes its name from a McCreary County girl who was beaten to death by her mother’s boyfriend. The man involved pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 years in prison, but he will eventually be eligible for parole, according to WLKY.
Delta-8 THC: House Bill 544 – According to the LRC, HB 544 directs the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services to develop regulations for delta-8 by Aug. 1. The chemical is found in small amounts in hemp and marijuana plants, but manufacturers have developed a way to produce it from CBD, another notable chemical in cannabis plants, according to the New York Times. The regulations will cover product testing, packaging and labeling, and prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from buying or possessing delta-8 products, according to the LRC.
DUI Restitutions: Senate Bill 268 – This new law enables a court to order restitution be paid to a child whose parents are killed or permanently disabled by an intoxicated driver. Named Melanie’s Law, it’s named after Melanie Hull, who experienced brain damage and is unable to care for herself after an intoxicated driver slammed into her car with her and her 8-year-old son inside.
ESG Investing: House Bill 236 – House Bill 236 pertains to ESG investing, which is an investing approach that also considers environmental, social and governmental factors. Conservatives have accused the popular investing strategy of politicizing financial tools to advance liberal political agendas. As a result, Republicans have moved to block retirement plans from using it. House Bill 236 bars the state’s retirement systems from using ESG investing.
Fentanyl Test Strips: House Bill 353 – According to the LRC, this new law means that fentanyl testing strips can no longer be considered drug paraphernalia, unless the strips are being used to help make or sell the powerful and often deadly opioid.
Gender and Sexuality: Senate Bill 150 – This controversial new law is sweeping in its scope, and the specific provisions banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth were set to take effect Thursday before a federal judge temporarily blocked it. In addition, the law bans discussion of gender and sexual orientation in the classroom, bars trans students from using their preferred bathroom and allows teachers to misgender students. Those provisions remain in effect.
Gray Machines: House Bill 594 – House Bill 594, according to the LRC, makes certain gambling machines, often called “gray machines” or “skill games,” illegal in Kentucky. Previously, the machines were able to exist under a legal gray area in state law, hence the name. The machines have proliferated at gas stations and convenience stores in the past few years, but now, anyone who owns or manages one could face a $25,000 fine per machine.
Hazing: Senate Bill 9 – This law is named Lofton’s Law after a University of Kentucky freshman took 18 shots of bourbon in 45 minutes and died of alcohol poisoning after his fraternity brothers left him alone on a couch. Lofton’s Law makes hazing in the first degree a Class D felony and a Class A misdemeanor for second-degree hazing. Under state law, those offenses are punishable by up to five years in prison and one year in jail, respectively.
HIV: House Bill 349 – House Bill 349 helps to decriminalize HIV by removing the penalty of a Class D felony from HIV-positive people who donate their organs or tissues to others, even those who are also HIV positive. The law also eliminates a Class C felony – which can carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison in Kentucky – for giving away HIV testing kits. Finally, the new law adds trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite, to the list of STIs eligible for expedited partner therapy. In a news release, Kentucky’s HIV Is Not a Crime Coalition celebrated the law as a win for gender equality and HIV-positive people. On Thursday, coalition members distributed free HIV self-tests in Louisville and Lexington legally for the first time in Kentucky.
Incest: House Bill 78 – This new law clarifies the definition of incest in Kentucky, prohibiting a person from having sex with their parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, great-grandparent, great-grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, brother, sister , first cousin, ancestor or descendant.
Juvenile Detention: House Bill 3 – House Bill 3 attempts to reform Kentucky’s juvenile justice system, which has been fraught with abuse and neglect, often to truths and runaways and sometimes to children who haven’t been criminally charged at all. Groups like the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy have warned HB 3 will lead to more youth detention, not less. Among the new provisions is a mandate that youth charged with a violent felony offense be held for up to 48 hours before their detention hearing with a judge. That provision takes effect Saturday, July 1.
KEES for workforce training: Senate Bill 54 – SB 54 allows money from the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship to be used on eligible work-force training programs, among other provisions.
MotorVehicle Racing: Senate Bill 96 – Senate Bill 96 allows local governments to grant permits for racing events and help organize those events by laying out requirements.
Physician Wellness: Senate Bill 12 – This new law exempts doctors from having to disclose to their boss that they’re participating in workplace wellness programs targeting “career fatigue” programs. Supporters say it will go a long way toward alleviating burnout among doctors.
Police Wellness: House Bill 207 – Like SB 12, this new law allows law enforcement agencies to provide confidential wellness programs to their employees. It also shields such records from subpoenas and requests under Kentucky’s Open Records Act.
Postpartum Depression: Senate Bill 135 – Senate Bill 135 aims to raise awareness of postpartum depression among Kentucky’s new parents and improve the prevention and treatment of postpartum depression. It would require written information about the conditions to be provided in Kentucky’s hospitals and birthing centers, according to the Kentucky Lantern. There’s also a provision to require the use of screening tools for postpartum depression. “Our commonwealth is in need of a physical, a financial, an emotional and a mental wellness revolution,” sponsor Bill Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, said of the legislation, the Kentucky Lantern reported. In 2022, the March of Dimes gave Kentucky an F for its generally poor maternal and infant health outcomes.
Religious Freedom in Schools: House Bill 547 – House Bill 547 prohibits a school district from punishing an employee for engaging in private religious expression, but its critics including the American Civil Liberties Union say the law is too broad in scope, is unconstitutional and invites lawsuits.
Sex Offenders: Senate Bill 80 – According to the Legislative Research Commission, this law bans registered sex offenders from loitering or operating mobile businesses within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare and public playgrounds or swimming pools.
Sports Wagering: House Bill 551 – According to the LRC, HB 551 creates a structure to legalize, regulate and tax sports betting in partnership with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
Student Discipline: House Bill 538 – House Bill 538 requires schools to expel students who pose a threat to the safety and well-being of others, including students who’ve assaulted teachers, school personnel or other students. It also allows schools to more easily place students into alternative learning programs. Louisville activist and Jefferson County Public Schools employee Kumar Rashad has said the law will disproportionately target Black students and fail to address deeper issues in Kentucky’s schools.
Teacher Shortages: House Bill 319 – According to the LRC, this bill aims to ease Kentucky’s teacher shortage by smoothing over licensing barriers between teachers moving from another state. It also requires the Kentucky Department of Education to create a statewide job posting system.
Tracking Devices: Senate Bill 199 – Under SB 199, tracking devices generally cannot be installed on motor vehicles without the consent of the vehicle’s owner or lessee.
Ban TikTok: Senate Bill 20 – According to the LRC, SB 20 bans nearly all employees in the state executive and legislative branches from using the social media app TikTok on government-owned networks and devices. The app — owned by the Chinese company ByteDance — is considered a threat to the state’s data security.