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Gun, Abortion Bills Clear Kentucky Senate

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Josh James
/
WUKY

Two perennial conservative touchstones — gun rights and abortion — took center stage in the Kentucky Senate Thursday, as lawmakers approved two major bills that gained momentum this week.

Senate Bill 150

The first passed by the GOP-dominated chamber would make it legal to transport concealed deadly weapons without obtaining a permit, sometimes called constitutional or unrestricted carry. Lawmakers debated the NRA-backed legislation, with several zeroing in on its constitutionality.

"The citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky don't need permission from the government to exercise their constitutional rights," Boone County Senator John Shickel said. "And that's what it boils down to."

Not all agreed, citing concerns about personal safety and interactions between untrained citizens carrying concealed weapons and the police.

"I, too, believe in the Second Amendment, but I don't believe in putting guns in untrained hands, and I think removing training is going in the wrong direction," Denise Harper-Angel, a Jefferson County Democrat, argued.

Pointing to the previous week's unanimous vote on a bipartisan school safety bill, Lexington Senator Reggie Thomas suggested the Senate is sending mixed messages by making it easier to carry concealed weapons.

If SB 150 is approved, Kentucky would join more than a dozen other states with similar laws.

Senate Bill 9

The second bill that breezed through the Senate would land the state in more exclusive company.

SB 9 outlaws abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, a strategy that's been tried and struck down in other states. Half of the Senate co-sponsored the bill, which passed 31-6 and was greeted with applause and standing ovations in the chamber and gallery.

In a somber defense on the Senate floor, 5th District Republican Stephen Meredith lamented a culture that treats life as "disposable," adding, "When you kill 3,000 babies a day, it does something to the American psyche."

Opponents charged that the General Assembly is inserting itself into a deeply personal matter best left to women and their families.

"That's what we're doing. We'll defend an unconstitutional bill, and we'll make some of the most agonizing, tough decisions a woman has to make even worse on a terrible day," Democratic Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey said, explaining his no vote.

Courting Constitutional Challenges

With a number of strict anti-abortion measures on the move in the legislature, and legal challenges certain to follow, many lawmakers are pinning their hopes on changes in the federal judiciary.

The language in many of the bills under consideration is far from new. The fetal heartbeat measure on its way to the Kentucky House mimics provisions recently struck down in an Iowa law. Polk County District Judge Michael Huppert said in his decision that backers failed to show a compelling state interest in banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

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Yet, sensing the rightward shift in the courts under President Donald Trump, many abortion rights opponents in Kentucky aren't swayed by the potentially costly legal battle. Fort Thomas Republican Representative Joe Fischer, who is sponsoring a blanket abortion prohibition, told reporters he's keeping a close eye on the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Potential decisions that could affect Roe v. Wade that are in the circuit courts, so far the Supreme Court has refused to hear most of those that percolate that far, but it may take another new justice to make the change," he said.

Abortion rights groups aren't ceding the battle over Roe. Tamarra Wieder with Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky maintains it's still too early to read the tea leaves regarding the current high court.

"Roe v. Wade is precedent. It is law," she tells WUKY. "I don't see them overturning such important healthcare with such flippancy." 

As that national dynamic plays out, Republican leaders in the Kentucky legislature are staying the course, arguing the fight is worth it.

Both measures now go to the House.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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