By: Patrick Flannery
Representative, State of Kentucky
We say every legislative session is historic, but key votes on medicinal cannabis and sports wagering in the final hours of this year’s session really solidified its place in the history books. After years of research and collaboration between lawmakers and stakeholders, medicinal cannabis and sports wagering became legal in the Commonwealth. Gov. Andy Beshear signed both bipartisan bills into law last Friday morning.
Senate Bill 47 establishes a framework for the Cabinet of Health and Family Services to regulate the cultivation and distribution of medicinal cannabis, or medical marijuana, in the Commonwealth. One provision of the bill makes it illegal for medicinal cannabis users to smoke the substance, but vaping would be allowed for users over the age of 21.
Under SB 47, individuals diagnosed with cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic pain, muscle spasms, chronic nausea or cyclical vomiting syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder could receive prescriptions for medicinal cannabis. The bill also permits the Kentucky Center for Cannabis Research to add medical conditions and diseases to the list.
Additionally, those seeking to cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes must obtain special permits. Doctors and nurse practitioners will also need a special license to prescribe, and dispensaries would need a special license to distribute.
The bill also allows fiscal courts to opt counties out of allowing distribution of medicinal cannabis. Minors could receive prescriptions for cannabis, but caretakers will be responsible for managing and administering the prescription.
Critics of the bill believe it should more narrowly define the allowed medical conditions and prohibit users from being dispensed the raw material. Critics also worry about the legality of medicinal cannabis and fear it could lead to recreational marijuana legalization in the near future.
Supporters of SB 47 say the bill will help Kentuckians suffering from chronic pain and certain chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis and cancer. Medicinal cannabis could help the opioid epidemic, they say.
The House approved the legislation with a 66-33 vote Thursday evening. It passed the Senate with a 26-11 vote earlier this month. The bill does not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2025.
In the Senate, lawmakers took up House Bill 551, which legalizes, regulates and taxes sports wagering in Kentucky.
HB 551 directs the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to oversee and regulate the wagering, permits only licensed tracks to obtain a sports wagering license through the commission and prohibits sports wagering for anyone under the age of 18.
The bill also prohibits a person who is participating in a sporting event either as a player, coach, official or owner of a team from placing a wager on a game or event they’re associated with and establishes criminal penalties for violators.
Another provision establishes the problem gambling assistance fund which would promote public awareness of gambling addiction and help pay for addiction treatment.
HB 551 sets a 9.75% tax on revenue at tracks and a 14.25% tax on revenue from online wagers. The state is estimated to make $23 million annual off sports wagering. The bill would dedicate 2.5% of the tax revenue from sports wagering to the fund. Limited to $50,000 per fiscal year, the fund would be administered by the Division of Behavioral Health of the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities.
After the problem gaming assistance fund costs and administrative costs have been appropriated, the remaining revenue would be deposited into the permanent pension fund.
Lawmakers criticizing HB 551 worry the bill will harm Kentuckians with gambling problems and children.
Those in favor of legalizing sports wagering say the bill brings the practice out of the shadows and will protect participants from being exploited.
HB 551 cleared the Senate floor on a 25-12 vote. It passed out of the House earlier this month on a 63-34 vote.
Legislators reconvened on March 29 for the final two days of session after the veto period, to override the Governor’s vetoes and considered additional legislation. A constitutional majority vote overrides a veto in both chambers, then the bill becomes law, the veto notwithstanding.
One bill that gained much attention this session was Senate Bill 150. Gov. Beshear’s veto was overridden by the legislature. SB 150 is a measure that prohibits the Kentucky Board of Education, Department of Education, and local school boards from forcing teachers to use a student’s preferred pronouns if different from biological sex. Also, the measure requires school districts to inform parents if a student requests the use of different pronouns, seeks medical attention, or mental health services. Additionally, it allows parents to review and opt-out children for sexual education courses. The bill also bans so-called “gender-affirming care” (sex-change surgeries), specifically irreversible hormone therapies and surgeries like hysterectomies and castration, to anyone under age 18. The bill includes language that allows the healthcare provider to conduct services to assist a patient in de-transitioning from a drug or hormone. This bill gives parents and guardians more rights in their child’s education and protects children from irreversible decisions while they are minors.
I want to share with some key pieces of legislation I sponsored and collaborated on that are now law or at the Governor’s desk awaiting to be signed.
SB 192: SB 192 allows investor-owned electric facilities to securitize or “borrow” the funding associated with the retirement of a power plant like the Big Sandy Plant in Louisa. When funding is granted by the PSC instead of a lender, the cost is recuperated by rate increases. This measure aims to decrease consumer electric rates in the Eastern Kentucky region. I was proud to work with Senator Wheeler on this measure and advocate for it in the House. I was glad to see this bill signed into law so Kentuckians can save money on their electric rates.
HB 170: This piece of legislation was a priority of mine as I approach my one-year anniversary as a cancer survivor and conclusion of my chemotherapy. Cancer fertility preservation is a major initiative in the oncology policy space. It requires health insurance plans to cover the cost of sperm or egg preservation procedures before a cancer patient receives chemotherapy or radiation. Chemotherapy and radiation can result in decreased fertility and currently, cancer patients face additional costs because there is no insurance coverage for fertility preservation procedures for cancer patients. Sadly, because of the additional costs patients face, many patients (particularly women) often will postpone cancer treatment to pursue fertility preservation. This piece of legislation remedies this issue with little fiscal impact to the state and ratepayers and will ease the mind of cancer patients by knowing their genetic legacy can live on and it will provide better health outcomes because patients can begin treatment as soon as necessary. After legislative attempts in previous sessions by other lawmakers, this bill is now law as it was signed almost immediately upon reaching the Governor’s desk.
HB 262: HB 262 is now law as it was signed by the Governor. This DUI legislation creates a vehicular homicide statute for DUI fatalities, something law and order advocates have long requested. It also requires that if a person is detained for driving under the influence, they remain in custody for up to six hours instead of the previous four hours. This piece of legislation will also be called Lily’s Law, after an Oldham County teenager who lost her life in a car crash due to a drunk driver. Drunk driving ruins the lives of families, the people harmed, and even the driver itself. This legislation strengthens our DUI laws.
HB 83: House Bill 83 was passed the final two days of session and awaits the Governor’s signature. It is a bill that I sponsored to primarily amend our judgment lien statutes and make requested changes to our implementation of the electronic recording of documents in our County Clerk’s offices. It was amended to also include language on materialman’s liens on leased properties. This bill was requested by many real estate professionals.
I was honored to manage several Senate bills on the House floor the final two days of session as well as offer a key floor amendment that was adopted to clarify an issue on legal liability. When a piece of legislation reaches the other legislative chamber, the bill sponsor requests that a specific lawmaker from the other chamber manage or “carry” their legislation. I believe I managed at least six Senate bills in the House this year, including two pieces of legislation sponsored by Democrats. One of these bills specifically helps my constituents in Lewis County on a school board real estate issue and the other is now known as Melanie’s Law. Melanie’s Law assists children who have lost a parent/guardian in a DUI fatality to receive child support in the form of restitution from the wrongdoer.
As always, I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. Feel free to contact me via email atPatrick.Flannery@lrc.ky.gov. If you would like more information, please visit the legislature’s website at www.legislature.ky.gov.