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What passed and failed in the Kentucky General Assembly's 2024 session

 The Capitol building in Frankfort, Kentucky, on Friday April 5, 2024.
Ryan Van Velzer
The Capitol building in Frankfort, Kentucky, on Friday April 5, 2024.

The 2024 legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly came to a close Monday, highlighted by the passage of a 2-year state budget and a sweeping anti-crime bill.

The crime bill was a major priority for the Republican supermajority, who also declined to include Beshear’s $1.4 billion request to fund universal pre-K and mandatory 11% staff raises for all public K-12 schools.

One big win for Republicans is still pending — a bill that forces a voter referendum this fall on a proposed constitutional amendment to allow public funding to go to private and charter schools.

Kentucky Public Radio’s Joe Sonka and Sylvia Goodman broke down what passed this session and what bills were left behind.

This has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Joe Sonka: So one of the largest bills this session, in terms of both its impact and the intensity of the debate around it, was House Bill 5, Republicans' far-reaching crime bill they call the Safer Kentucky Act. Sylvia, it's hard to sum up everything this bill does briefly, but what is this bill going to do and what was the debate over it like?

Sylvia Goodman: So House Bill 5 was definitely a big win for Republicans. They passed it over the governor's veto in the final days of the session, and it was really huge, you're right. It increases penalties on a number of crimes, places a ban on street camping, aka public homelessness. It limits charitable bail funds and gives shopkeepers criminal and civil immunity to detain people they think shoplifted. And that's just a few of the things it does. Some Democrats called it the worst bill they've had to vote on this year and the Senate Judiciary chair said he thinks it'll cause some big issues down the line.

And at the same time that Republicans were passing this giant bill, they were also working on their largest responsibility for this session: passing a 2-year budget. Republicans funded a lot of their priorities, but what did they leave behind?

Sonka: Yeah, Republicans praised their budget as the greatest education budget the state has ever had. They did increase the per-student SEEK funding formula for public K-12 schools, but they did not include the big two items that Gov. Andy Beshear called for in his proposed budget. And that's to have universal public pre-K and to mandate 11% raises for all school staff across all school districts. Those two items had a big price tag of $1.4 billion. And Republicans left that on the wayside.

And following up on the subject of education, one of the most important bills passed this session isn't quite done, because it will be up to voters this fall. Tell us about House Bill 2.

Goodman: So House Bill 2 is a constitutional amendment that would allow public funds to go to private schools. The legislature has tried to get around the constitution for so-called school choice measures before, so this amendment has kind of been coming up for a long time here. And we're expecting a lot of money to flow into that debate leading up to voters' decision in November.

Sonka: So even though the Republicans have a dominant supermajority, with at least 80% of the seats in each chamber, there were a few big priorities that they still couldn't pass into law. One of those were a few bills targeting diversity, equity and inclusion measures that public schools and colleges. How did this effort fall short?

Goodman: Yeah, DEI definitely fell flat this year. It sounds like an argument over language and how far they should go is what kept it from crossing the finish line. The question is, should they ban all DEI offices, or just these required diversity statements. Although, based on what GOP leadership has said, it's likely these conversations will continue over the interim, so it's definitely not the end of the conversation there.

Sonka: And this was also the case with House Bill 509, which the Kentucky Press Association and other groups said would gut the Kentucky Open Records Act and hurt transparency, specifically creating a loophole for government officials to conduct public business on their private cell phones, through text messaging and messaging apps.

This bill cleared the House but ran into some opposition in the GOP caucus in the Senate and didn't make it to a vote on the final day, even though Gov. Andy Beshear had signaled that he would have signed it if they sent it to him.

Goodman: Yeah, and Republicans also couldn't get through bills to cut SNAP benefits and weaken child labor laws. And it looks like they were mostly stopped in the Senate.

Copyright 2024 Louisville Public Media. To see more, visit Louisville Public Media.

Joe Sonka
Sylvia Goodman