Veto overrides and sine die: What to expect the final two days of Kentucky’s legislative session

Kentucky governor’s veto power is weak compared to most states

By: - March 28, 2023 5:51 pm

Lawmakers on the floor of the House applauded first responders in the gallery during Gov. Andy Beshear’s State of the Commonwealth Address Jan. 4. (Photo for Kentucky Lantern by Arden Barnes)

The Kentucky General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday for the last two days of this year’s session with some closely-watched bills still to consider and a chance to override more than a dozen vetoes of Republican-backed legislation by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Since March 17, Beshear has had a ten-day period to consider whether to veto legislation from the GOP-controlled General Assembly, allow such bills to become law without his signature or sign legislation into law. 

The Republican supermajorities in the Kentucky legislature can easily override any vetoes from Beshear; only a majority of votes in each legislative chamber is required for  an override. 

The veto power of Kentucky’s governor is particularly weak. Kentucky is one of only six states where a majority of lawmakers is needed to override a veto, according to the Council of State Governments. Most states require two-thirds of lawmakers to override. 

The legislature could also finish passing bills that they didn’t get to earlier in the session, but the two-day timeframe to do so is tight. Some legislation has passed one chamber but still needs the approval of the other, including bills to legalize medical marijuana and sports gambling. Bills passed during the last two days of the legislative session could not be overridden if the governor were to veto them. 

The Kentucky Senate is also considering whether to convict an impeached prosecutor who asked for nude photos from a defendant in exchange for prosecutorial favors.

On Thursday, the legislature will adjourn “sine die,” which is the action that officially ends a session. 

Here’s a rundown of where various legislation stands in the legislature’s homestretch: 

What still could win final passage in the last two days

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris , (center) testifies before a packed committee room on Senate Bill 47, which would allow people with certain medical conditions to use medicinal cannabis in Kentucky. (Photo by LRC Public Information)

Senate Bill 47

SB 47 would legalize the use of medical marijuana for people with specific conditions. Similar bills have passed the House in recent years only to die in the Senate. But the Senate, earlier this month and for the first time,  approved legalizing medical marijuana.

As long as no bill substitutes or floor amendments are added to the legislation, it would need a required second reading on Wednesday in the Kentucky House of Representatives before it could be voted on by a House committee and the full House to receive final passage Thursday, the last day of the legislative session. 

Beshear has signaled he would support such legislation. 

House Bill 551

This legislation is the latest attempt to legalize sports gambling in Kentucky.

As long as no bill substitutes or floor amendments are added to the legislation, it would need to pass a vote by a Senate committee and receive a full vote by the Kentucky Senate to see final passage. 

Beshear has said he would support such legislation. 

House Bill 5

HB 5 would eventually eliminate the property tax on bourbon barrels in Kentucky, something that the bourbon industry has supported. Local elected officials in affected areas have decried the measure, saying it would be devastating to local government budgets. 

As long as no bill substitutes or floor amendments are added to the legislation, it would just need to pass a vote in the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee and get approval by the full Senate to receive final passage. 

Senate Bill 277

SB 277 would, among other things, require some owners of hazardous dams to develop and maintain emergency action plans in the case of a dam breach. It would just need a vote by the full Senate to receive final passage. 

Senate Bill 104

This legislation would disband the board for Kentucky Educational Television, the state’s public television broadcaster, and require gubernatorial appointments to the board to receive approval from the GOP-controlled Kentucky Senate. It would also dictate certain demographic requirements for the board. 

The Republican-backed bill would need to be voted out of the House State Government Committee and receive a full House vote sometime Wednesday or Thursday to get full passage. The bill could be vetoed by Beshear without a chance for the legislature to override it.  A spokesperson for the Governor’s Office has said the bill is “aimed at controlling KET.” 

Drag performer Poly Tics testifies against Senate Bill 115. (Screenshot of KET livestream)

Senate Bill 115

SB 115 would criminalize “sexually explicit” drag performances by “male or female impersonators” on publicly-owned land or in front of children. Opponents previously testified that it would harm the LGBTQ+ and drag community. Primary sponsor ​​Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield, said her intent in filing the bill “is to restrict performances of an adult nature, as defined in this legislation, to adults.” 

As long as no bill substitutes or floor amendments are added to the legislation, it would need a required second reading on Wednesday in the Kentucky House of Representatives before it could be voted on by a House committee and the full House to receive final passage Thursday, the last day of the legislative session. 

The bill could be vetoed by Beshear without a chance for the legislature to override it. 

What vetoes could be overridden

Kentucky teachers rallied in the House chamber on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Senate Bill 7

This bill would stop automatic payroll deductions for some public employees’ unions or association dues. Beshear in his veto message said the bill was unconstitutional and targeted public employees. Unions representing such public employees oppose the bill, including the Kentucky Education Association which relies on automatic deductions to collect dues. 

Senate Bill 37

This bill would make changes to an advisory council for pharmacists, allowing organizations such as the Kentucky Pharmacists Association and the Kentucky Independent Pharmacy Alliance to appoint individuals to the council. 

Beshear in his veto message said allowing private organizations to appoint people to a board violates the executive power of his office, making the legislation unconstitutional. 

Senate Bill 65

SB 65 would end dental, vision and hearing care benefits from Medicaid for 900,000 Kentuckians, something that Beshear expanded through an administrative regulation last year that the General Assembly is now rejecting through this bill. 

Beshear in his veto message said the legislature is trying to void a regulation that will increase the state’s workforce by making Kentuckians healthier. 

Education Commissioner Jason Glass addresses a legislative committee. (Photo for Kentucky Lantern by McKenna Horsley)

Senate Bill 107 

This legislation would require Kentucky’s education commissioner — the leader of the Kentucky Department of Education who is currently appointed by the Kentucky Board of Education — to receive approval from the GOP-controlled Kentucky Senate to be confirmed. 

Republicans say SB 107 is needed to remove any perception of politics from the state Department of Education, but opponents, including the current chair of the state Board of Education, say the bill could reverse decades of progress in protecting education from politics. 

Beshear in his veto message said the bill “politicizes the process” for hiring a new commissioner of education. 

Republicans in supporting the bill have pointed to past criticism of Beshear when he disbanded the state Board of Education and appointed new board members when he first assumed office. 

Senate Bill 122

SB 122 would give the legislature more control over parking spaces at the state Capitol in Frankfort. 

Beshear in his veto message said the bill is akin to the General Assembly trying to “take space occupied by the Supreme Court of Kentucky” or trying to take parking spaces and lodge rooms at a state park. 

Senate Bill 126 

SB 126 would allow participants in civil lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state laws, regulations and executive orders to request their case be moved to a new courtroom across the state at random. 

Beshear in his veto message called it an “unconstitutional power grab” that could add costs and delays on court cases, while the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray, has said such changes of venue wouldn’t create excess costs. 

A sticker adhered to marble on the Kentucky Capitol’s mezzanine. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Senate Bill 150

SB 150, a sweeping anti-trans bill that would, among other things, ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth, has received considerable attention in the past two weeks. The bill, primarily sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, originally would have prevented school districts from requiring staff or other students to use another student’s correct pronouns. 

In a last-minute move, Republicans added other measures into the bill that included mandating school districts adopt policies that would prevent transgender youth from using the bathroom of their gender. 

Beshear in his veto message said the bill would strip away the rights of parents to make medical decisions for their children, while Republicans have denounced his veto as supporting gender-affirming surgeries for youth. Trans Kentuckians say such surgeries aren’t happening in the state currently and that LGBTQ+ organizations have never advocated for such surgeries for minors.

Senate Bill 226 

This bill would allow surface mining companies to more easily receive permits to allow them to dump pollution into protected waterways. Sen. Johnnie Turner, R-Harlan, has said the legislation would help mining companies that are struggling with environmental regulations, while a conservation advocate has said the bill doesn’t account for specific needs of some aquatic habitats. 

Beshear in his veto message said such legislation could create a “real and significant threat” that the federal Environmental Protection Agency could take over the state-run permitting process. 

Senate Bill 241

SB 241 would allow for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to acquire conservation easements, in perpetuity, for about 54,000 acres of land. 

Beshear in his veto message pointed to what he said were “recent procurement abuses” by the department and said that Kentuckians should be able to trust that public funds are properly used. 

What will the solar industry leave behind when installations are decommissioned in the future? (Getty Images)

House Bill 4

This legislation would create a framework for how large-scale solar installations are decommissioned, or removed from their site locations, at the end of the project’s life decades in the future. 

Conservation advocates have worried the bill undercuts existing precedent favoring the rights of landowners leasing to solar developers, while Republicans backing the bill have said statutes are needed to better dictate how decommissioning of these projects should happen. 

Beshear in his veto said the bill removes local input from the current regulatory process vetting new solar projects.

House Bill 329

HB 329 is the latest attempt to decide who gives final approval to contracts within the state government. Currently, the Government Contract Review Committee can make non-binding recommendations whether to approve or reject a specific contract. The secretary of the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet is allowed to follow that recommendation or disregard it. 

The bill would allow for the state treasurer, currently Republican Allison Ball, to have the final say on such contracts. Similar past attempts have been blocked by state courts, something that Beshear mentioned in his veto message on the bill. 

House Bill 395

HB 395 would create a new board, composed entirely of lawmakers, to review state investments updating technology and cybersecurity resources within the state government. 

Beshear in his veto message said the new board would duplicate the work of an existing board, the Capital Planning Advisory Board, which is composed of members from all three branches of government in the state. 

House Bill 519

This bill adds the president and chief executive officer of the Kentucky State Fair Board to tourist and convention commissions for first-class cities and consolidated local governments.

Beshear in his veto message pointed to a 2021 law passed by the General Assembly that gave the Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles control over the majority of appointees to the Kentucky State Fair Board. Beshear at that time sued the legislature over the law, arguing it was unconstitutional. 

Beshear went on to say in his message that the “unconstitutionally-constructed board continues to operate without any oversight by the Governor.” 

House Bill 568

HB 568 would merge the Louisville-Jefferson County Public Defender Corporation with the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, which local public defenders in Louisville worry could raise future funding questions for their work. 

Beshear in his veto message echoed those concerns from local public defenders, saying such a merger shouldn’t be done hastily without reviewing budgetary impacts and that the legislation appeared to be an effort to retaliate against the unionization efforts by the public defenders. 

House Joint Resolution 69 

HJR 69 would direct Beshear to certify to the federal Environmental Protection Agency that the Kentucky Board of Radon Safety has the authority to enter into an grant agreement with the EPA, including monies from the State Indoor Radon Grant Program

Beshear in a veto message said the joint resolution is an attempt to shift power away from the Governor’s office in determining what agency or board is the designee for federal grant funding. 

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear applauds during the State of the Commonwealth address in Frankfort on Jan. 4. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Arden Barnes)

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.