Ruby-red Kentucky begins new legislative session with budget talks, policy clashes on horizon

  • Kentucky legislators returned to Frankfort on Tuesday for a 60-day session.
  • The session is expected to be dominated by negotiations over the Bluegrass State’s next two-year budget and clashes with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s agenda.
  • Beshear unveiled his own budget blueprint — which includes universal preschool and an 11% pay hike for public schoolteachers — last month.

Kentucky lawmakers returned to work Tuesday for a 60-day session that’ll be dominated by negotiations over the next state budget, with Republican supermajorities in both chambers once again shaping Bluegrass State policies even as voters have extended an era of divided government by reelecting Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Both the House and Senate gaveled in at midday to begin the grind of legislating through mid-April. Efforts to craft the next two-year budget — the state’s overarching policy document — likely won’t wrap up until late in the session.

Beshear offered his budget blueprint in a televised speech last month, calling for massive funding increases for public education topped by a proposed 11% pay raise for teachers and all other public school employees. The governor also is resuming his push for state-funded preschool for every 4-year-old in Kentucky. Republican lawmakers have charted their own course on education policies.

KENTUCKY GOV. BESHEAR PUSHES FOR HIGHER TEACHER PAY, UNIVERSAL PRE-K AS LEGISLATIVE SESSION NEARS

Lawmakers will review hundreds of other bills in the coming months. Familiar issues that could grab headlines include abortion and school choice. New issues for Kentucky could include efforts to rein in diversity, equity and inclusion offices in higher education.

Kentucky Capitol

The exterior of the Kentucky Capitol is viewed April 7, 2021, in Frankfort, Kentucky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

A push to relax Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban could resurface. Last year, a bill to add exceptions to the ban for pregnancies caused by rape or incest made no headway in the legislature. Beshear, an abortion-rights supporter, made his support for those exceptions a prominent part of his successful reelection campaign. Kentucky’s current abortion law bans the procedure except when carried out to save a pregnant woman’s life or to prevent a disabling injury.

Another potential high-profile issue could be efforts to put a school-choice constitutional amendment on the fall ballot in Kentucky. The goal would be to remove constitutional hurdles for school choice initiatives. It comes after school choice advocates suffered setbacks in courts. A state judge last month struck down a law aimed at setting up a funding method for charter schools. In 2022, Kentucky’s Supreme Court struck down another law meant to award tax credits for donations supporting private school tuition.

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One dynamic that will be watched closely is the relationship between the governor and GOP lawmakers. Beshear’s first term featured annual policy clashes with Republican lawmakers, who overrode numerous gubernatorial vetoes. Beshear has noted that he also signed more than 600 bipartisan bills into law, including signature measures to legalize sports betting and medical marijuana and to expand early voting.

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