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Politics

Here’s what’s on tap for the 2022 Kentucky legislative session

State lawmakers return to Frankfort on Tuesday to write a new two-year state budget, redistrict Kentucky’s political boundaries and consider a slew of bills, from further limiting abortion to legalizing medical cannabis.

The 2022 legislative session lasts from Jan. 4 until April 14 and will be dominated by partisan politics as the entire House and half of the Senate will be on the ballot in November.

Republicans will look to shore up their supermajorities in each chamber, and Democrats will try to lift up their ranks from a low watermark. The GOP controls 75 out of 100 seats in the House and 30 out of 38 seats in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear will lay out his policy priorities, but will have little power over what does or doesn’t pass out of the legislature. It’s extremely easy to override a Kentucky governor’s veto—a majority of votes in each chamber—and Republican leaders of the legislature have shown little interest in bringing Beshear into the fold.

Here is some of what’s on the legislature’s plate:

Redistricting

Every 10 years, lawmakers are required to redraw the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts to account for population changes.

Redistricting ensures that seats in the legislature or congress represent a nearly equal number of people, and after significant shifts in population from rural eastern and western Kentucky, the process will be especially dramatic this time.

Adding to the drama, Census data came in late because of the coronavirus pandemic and lawmakers plan to pass the maps quickly during the legislative session. At the moment, candidates don’t know what their districts will look like, and Republican leaders plan to pass a bill delaying the candidate filing deadline from Jan. 7 to Jan. 25.

House Speaker David Osborne said the maps will likely pass during the first week of the legislative session, but Beshear will have an opportunity to wait 10 days before signing or vetoing the plans, further delaying and complicating the process.

Budget

Legislators have to write a new two-year spending pla.In 2020 and 2021, they only passed one-year plans because of coronavirus-induced financial uncertainty.

This time, legislators have a lot of money to play around with, partly because tax revenue wasn’t as dismal as budget writers planned for during the pandemic, and partly because of major windfalls from the federal coronavirus relief package and infrastructure bill.

Kentucky had a $1.1 billion budget surplus in the fiscal year that ended last July and will receive another $1.1 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan Act this spring. Economists predict the state could have another surplus in the current fiscal year.

But expenses are only mounting in the $12 billion state budget, which still has major liabilities from the state’s pension systems for state workers and teachers.

And both Beshear and Republican leaders of the legislature have floated the idea of several raises for state workers—including a 10% raise for social workers, $15,000 raises for state troopers and bonus pay for frontline workers during the pandemic.

Kentucky State University, a historically Black university in Frankfort, has asked for $23 million to help recover from a financial meltdown.

Abortion

Republican lawmakers plan to take up an omnibus anti-abortion bill early on in the session. The proposal, sponsored by GOP Rep. Nancy Tate of Brandenburg, would make it harder for minors to get the procedure, create more restrictions for abortion medication and set requirements for disposing fetal tissue.

The measure comes as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the fate of Roe v. Wade, the landmark high court decision that forbids states from restricting abortion before the point of fetal viability.

Kentucky lawmakers have already passed a so-called “trigger” law that would ban abortions in the state if Roe is overturned. Kentuckians will weigh in on a proposal to amend the state Constitution on Election Day 2022, adding language that would say the document doesn’t guarantee the right to an abortion.

Medical cannabis

Lawmakers will consider a proposal to legalize cannabis use for people with some chronic ailments. A similar bill passed out of the House in 2020, but wasn’t taken up in the Senate, which has traditionally been more conservative on the issue.

The measure has been filed year after year and has been whittled down to try and gain more support. The bill would only allow doctors to prescribe cannabis for people with chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and nausea. The current version also doesn’t allow people to grow their own plants or smoke it—only legalizing products like edibles and oils.

Critical Race Theory

A group of Republican lawmakers has filed a bill to ban what they erroneously call “critical race theory.” The measure actually bans teachers from talking about race in ways that make students feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

Critical race theory is an academic framework that says racism has been perpetuated on a systemic level in the United States. Some Republicans have rallied against the issue in the wake of racial justice protests in 2020.

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