The friendliest day in Frankfort? 2023 General Assembly greets new members on first day
Dozens of new faces were welcomed to the Kentucky Capitol Tuesday as the 2023 legislative session got underway.
The brief proceedings were bookended by handshakes and formalities, ahead of the debates to come. This opening day the smiles were even wider, given that it was mostly Republicans greeting new Republicans as the party added to its supermajorities in both chambers.
In recent years, GOP leaders have used the beginning of short sessions to swiftly pass a series of bills dealing with high priority, often controversial, issues – such as abortion. But leading Senate Republican Damon Thayer says that’s not the plan this year.
"We have achieved much, but not all, of our big philosophical law changes that we used the short session to move quickly in in the past, so we're going to move to a more contemplative approach."Sen. Damon Thayer
But while Tuesday was largely a meet and greet, the House did unveil its top priority bill — an income tax cut — and Thayer signaled that the Senate would be taking up a bill extending to deadline to implement changes to the state’s unemployment system, which would trim back benefits for out-of-work Kentuckians.
One change that won’t be happening this year is an extension of the session itself. Kentuckians defeated a constitutional amendment last year that would have allowed the General Assembly to bring itself back into session for additional days.
This year’s 30-day regular session will run through March 30.
Medical marijuana advocates are hoping to get the issue front and center early in the 2023 legislative session.
A half-hour before lawmakers gaveled in on day one, medical marijuana proponents were already gathering in the Capitol rotunda in the hopes that their visibility might jumpstart efforts to push medical marijuana over the finish line.
One of the advocates handing out information in the well of the Capitol was Alex Berling, who wants to see the state join the growing number of others that have legalized not just medical but recreational cannabis.
"We're making this the forefront in 2023 starting out," Berling said. "At least let's get on the step of decriminalizing and possibly making medical cannabis a thing, and then we'll get there."
But the main hurdle for any kind of legalization effort remains the Kentucky Senate, where high-ranking Republican skeptics have repeatedly drawn the line at making the substance legal, instead calling for more study.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer has said he’s a no vote, but won’t stand in the way if the GOP caucus musters enough support. As for this session, he says, "I don't know. We've got six new members. We haven't really talked about it. We certainly haven't taken a poll count on it."
Gov. Andy Beshear used an executive order to bypass by General Assembly and loosen restrictions on medical marijuana in 2022 — a move that could both increase pressure on lawmakers to act and cause some frustrated Republican opponents to dig their feet in further.