General Assembly stalls pro-life bills due to coronavirus and opposition

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

Note: SB 9 has been vetoed by Governor Andy Beshear since the publishing of this article. 

The Kentucky General Assembly ended its 2020 session April 15, with many pro-life and pro-Catholic social teaching bills put off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some bills simply ran out of time, others were intentionally stalled by opponents.

Jason Hall, executive director of the CCK, said the House and the Senate both spent the first chunk of time passing their own bills and they were only a couple weeks into dealing with the other chamber’s bills when they had to start eliminating days. They eventually lost nearly 10 days of assembly.

“We did get a few things that we supported across the finish line, but as with everything else, when the coronavirus hit, the days that they met got greatly reduced… that was a lot of bills that would have made it over the final step in that final week or two, and that never happened,” he said.

House Bill 67, the constitutional amendment clarifying that there is no right to an abortion in the state constitution, had passed the House before the pandemic hit, but with the shortened schedule never received a hearing in the Senate.

“This very likely would have made it through under normal conditions, and will likely be proposed again,” said Mr. Hall. “I believe it would likely have gotten a hearing in the Senate if they had more time.” 2022 is the next time this bill can be on the ballot.

Senate Bill 9, the born-alive infant protection bill, did pass both chambers on the last day, with the language of House Bill 451 attached. This would give authority to the Attorney General to enforce abortion regulation.

“A clean SB 9 would have probably been more likely to escape a gubernatorial veto, but we have created an advocacy campaign to urge the governor to sign the bill that passed,” said Mr. Hall.

Yet while some bills simply didn’t get any floor time, others were intentionally stalled. The highly contended HB 350 — Scholarship Tax Credits — ran into trouble before the coronavirus shut everything down, said Mr. Hall.

Senate Bill 154 was the severe mental illness exclusion from the death penalty. “Once again, it was reported out of committee and then behind-the-scenes efforts were made to stall it, which were successful. It was early in the session and they could have gotten it to the House, but opponents behind the scenes stalled,” said Mr. Hall.

“Issues like Scholarship Tax Credits and the Death Penalty bill, with those it was a problem with opposition within the legislature … House Republicans who publicly said they were for it simply did not want to take the vote and prevented it from happening,” he said. “We’ll have to get with our allies and determine what the best path forward is.”

Since the Scholarship Tax Credits bill has to be addressed in a budget year, it’s possible it might be addressed in 2021 or 2022, since this year the committee only planned for one fiscal year rather than two.

According to Mr. Hall, this was a more positive session on criminal justice issues than Kentucky has seen in a while. House Bill 424, which would have raised the threshold for when a theft becomes a felony from $500 to $1000, passed the House with a vote of 73-17. Without the shortening of session, this bill very well might have also passed the Senate.

Other bills on the CCK’s radar include:

SB 1, the “sanctuary cities” bill, did not receive a hearing in the House, but this was largely due to COVID-19.

HB 284, which expands the incentives that are currently available for parolees to those on probation, was passed and signed by the governor. Up until now, parole time could be reduced by meeting various conditions, but probation had no similar system.

HB 327, which creates a system of automatic expungement for dismissals and acquittals, passed. If someone is charged with a crime but is never prosecuted or is acquitted, the charge will be expunged from their record.

SB 62, which restores voting rights for felons. It ran out of time, but there was more energy around this than the CCK has seen in a while.”