Kentucky Politics

Kentucky lawmakers worked right up until the deadline at midnight Wednesday morning, passing millions of dollars in tax breaks, controversial education policies, and dozens of other bills that lawmakers and other citizens are still combing through to understand.

But not everything made it across the finish line. Several bills that had been moving through the legislature are now on life support after not passing ahead of Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto period.

High-profile proposals that still haven’t passed include bills making it a crime to insult police officers, limiting no-knock warrants, ensuring liability protection for businesses during the pandemic, and banning LGBTQ conversion therapy.

Lawmakers can still pass bills on the final two days of the legislative session on March 29 and 30, but Beshear could veto anything that’s approved and they wouldn’t have the chance to override him.

Here are some of the bills on life support:

Criminalizing Insults Against Police

Senate Bill 211 is likely dead after not receiving a hearing in the House. The bill came in direct response to racial justice protests in Louisville and across the nation over the last year and sparked outrage from opponents, who accused it of violating First Amendment rights and encouraging aggressive police behavior.

The bill would make it a Class B misdemeanor if someone “accosts, insults, taunts, or challenges” police with words or gestures “that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.”

The measure would have also boosted protest-related charges, including requiring people arrested on “rioting” charges to be held in jail for at least 48 hours and making it a Class D felony to evade arrest.

Even if the legislature passed the measure later this month, Beshear would be able to veto it and lawmakers wouldn’t have an opportunity to override him.

COVID Liability Protections

Providing businesses with a shield from pandemic-related lawsuits was one of the top priorities for Republican lawmakers this session, but a bill doing so lost momentum in the hours before Beshear’s veto period.

Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, would protect businesses and other entities during the pandemic from lawsuits, unless they were grossly negligent or intentionally defied safety guidelines.

The measure had already passed out of the Senate, but during an impromptu House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday night, several lawmakers expressed reservations.

Rep. Jennifer Decker, a Republican from Waddy, was one of several Republicans who said the bill would need changes before she could support it.

“I think it goes too far, I don’t think it protects people. I want businesses to open, but I think this goes well beyond the COVID problem,” Decker said.

The bill could still pass out of the House when lawmakers return, but Republicans would have to gain Democratic Gov. Beshear’s support to prevent him from vetoing it.

Limiting No-Knock Warrants

Despite bipartisan support, lawmakers didn’t pass Senate President Stivers’ bill limiting no-knock warrants ahead of the deadline, though lawmakers could still pass it later this month with hopes Beshear will sign it.

Senate Bill 4 emerged as the politically viable no-knock warrant bill after Republican leaders declined to take up Democratic Rep. Attica Scott’s more extensive proposal, Breonna’s Law For Kentucky.

Stivers’ bill would restrict no-knock warrants to searches involving alleged violent crime and require them to be executed between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The bill also calls for more oversight of the warrant approval process and requires police conducting no-knock raids to be specially trained and wear body cameras.

The measure already passed out of the Senate and awaits a final vote in the House, but several proposed amendments could change the final version.

Advocates have sounded alarms on some of the amendments, one of which would allow no-knocks to be executed in some drug cases, while another would extend the time when warrants can be executed to midnight.

Louisville Civilian Review Board Subpoena Power

Lawmakers are still stalemated over whether and how to provide Louisville’s new civilian review board with power to compel testimony and documents as they seek to hold the city’s police department accountable.

On Tuesday, the Senate State and Local Government Committee stripped language from House Bill 309 that would provide the board with subpoena power, as long as it was approved by the Louisville Metro Council’s Oversight and Audit Committee.

Republican Rep. Jason Nemes said a yet-to-be-revealed compromise would be amended to the bill when the Senate takes it up, though city officials quickly raised concerns, and the bill didn’t advance before the deadline.

Louisville’s Metro Council created the civilian review board last year following months of protests against racism and police violence, but only the legislature can give the board subpoena power.

City officials have promised for decades to create a civilian review board that can effectively oversee police, but the efforts repeatedly fail after the board doesn’t get effective subpoena power.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.