© 2024 WUKY
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sweeping 'anti-trans' legislation, medical marijuana bills clear major hurdles in whirlwind legislative day

A visitor in the Kentucky Senate Gallery is escorted out by a doorkeeper as she shouts in anger at the passage of Senate Bill 150 at the Kentucky Senate in Frankfort, Ky., Thursday, March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Timothy D. Easley/AP
FR43398 AP
A visitor in the Kentucky Senate Gallery is escorted out by a doorkeeper as she shouts in anger at the passage of Senate Bill 150 at the Kentucky Senate in Frankfort, Ky., Thursday, March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

The final pre-veto day of the 2023 legislative session proved to be an emotional roller-coaster – with the Kentucky Senate handing a long-awaited win to medical marijuana supporters while dealing a stinging defeat to trans youth advocates.

Emotions ran high in the normally quiet gallery overlooking the Kentucky Senate Thursday night. From medicinal cannabis advocates, who have spent a decade lobbying lawmakers, there was applause when the measure finally passed its toughest hurdle – leading to hopes that legalization, while highly restricted, might finally be within reach.

From trans youth and their supporters, a vote in favor of sweeping new restrictions on gender-affirming care and recognition of gender identity in schools brought shouts and cursing.


Sweeping reforms directed at transgender minors were speedily resurrected and passed on day 28 of the Kentucky General Assembly, drawing promises of legal challenges if the bill becomes law.

With just hours to go, Republican lawmakers introduced and passed a repackaged version of Senate Bill 150, prompting an outraged response from onlookers with one attendee yelling that Senate President Robert Stivers has "blood on his hands."

SB 150 retained some of its original provisions, blocking any rules that would force teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns. It would also prevent schools from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity and institute new restrictions on bathroom policies.

But most controversially, it would bar gender-transitioning services for those under 18. Those already on puberty blockers or hormone therapy would be forced to taper off and detransition.

"I think that there has been a huge rise of anti-trans bills and hate politics and it's because it sells like hotcakes."
Sen. David Yates (D)

Remarks by Republican Whitney Westerfield and Democrat David Yates highlighted the debate over the motivations behind the bill.

"I think the folks that support this and the folks that don't support it all — all of us in this body and the body down the hall — genuinely care about the children of the state of Kentucky," Westerfield said. "We disagree profoundly about this issue, some of us, but I hope that we can appreciate the spirit in which we try to do our work."

"I will disagree. I don't believe that this all comes from a place of love. I think that there has been a huge rise of anti-trans bills and hate politics and it's because it sells like hotcakes," Yates later said on the floor.

Emma Curtis is a transgender woman who watched from the balcony.

"What I saw happen in the legislature today is the most disgraceful thing I've ever seen happen in Frankfort," she said.

While the ACLU has vowed a court battle should the legislature override an expected veto by Gov. Beshear, Curtis says she worries the bill will find its way into law.

"Today, we saw a failure of the legislative branch, and I think my biggest fear is that we're going to see a failure in our judicial branch as well," Curtis told WUKY.

Movement on the bill happened rapidly, sending Curtis and other advocates sprinting to get to a hastily-called hearing when the repackaged reforms were heard in committee.

"They were hoping to have this hearing without any public testimony," she said. "As we were signing up to testify, the aide literally ripped the paper away from us. Luckily we were able to just get our names on there."

It didn’t, however, stop the legislation critics have labeled an “omnibus anti-trans” bill from gaining final passage and a path to becoming law.

According to a recent Mason-Dixon poll in Kentucky, 71% of respondents were against laws overruling parents’ decisions to access healthcare for their transgender teenager. That finding was reported by the Fairness Campaign, which advocates on behalf of LGBTQ-related issues.

Medical Marijuana Victory Lap

It’s not quite a done deal yet, but the prospects for medical cannabis in the commonwealth improved significantly on day 28 of the session – with a bill finally clearing what’s been its biggest uphill climb: a highly skeptical GOP-led Senate.

"We are ecstatic. We just made Kentucky history," Kristin Wilcox with Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis said. "We have heard that the House is prepared to act fast, so we are extremely hopeful."

It also received a first reading in the House, meaning it’s eligible for a vote in that chamber when lawmakers return in late March.

Wilcox's daughter suffer from a form of medication-resistant epilepsy.

"Passing this bill will be huge for her, but it's grown far beyond just my daughter and her needs. Over the years we have met with thousands of Kentuckians with varying ages and demographics and are just as desperate for help and we know that this piece of legislation will absolutely help them," she said.

"We are ecstatic. We just made Kentucky history."
Kristin Wilcox, Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis

While many previous no votes in the Senate cited the moving testimony of Kentuckians suffering from chronic conditions as the reason for their change of heart, the potential passage of medical marijuana could benefit Republicans politically in a gubernatorial election year.

As it stands, the only action taken on medical cannabis – an overwhelmingly popular issue according to statewide polls – has been executive orders signed by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.


Meanwhile, a bill phasing out the bourbon barrel tax – potentially affecting revenue for local governments and schools – did not pass out of the Senate Thursday night. It could be revived on the last two legislative days.

A measure allowing students to carry guns on college campuses appears dead for the session, according to sponsor Republican Savannah Maddox.

Gov. Andy Beshear now has ten days to sign, veto, or allow bills to pass without his signature before lawmakers return for the final 48 hours of the regular session in late March.

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.