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Post session, legislators reflect on wins, losses, and November's looming constitutional amendment

Senate President Robert Stivers, Senator Donald Douglas, Senator Shelley Funke Frommeyer, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, Senator Mike Wilson, Senator Michael J. Nemes, and Senator Phillip Wheeler held a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda following the end of the 2024 legislative session.
Clay Wallace
Senate President Robert Stivers, Senator Donald Douglas, Senator Shelley Funke Frommeyer, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, Senator Mike Wilson, Senator Michael J. Nemes, and Senator Phillip Wheeler held a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda following the end of the 2024 legislative session.

Kentucky’s 2024 Legislative session wrapped up Monday. The state’s Republican majority celebrates their wins, while Democratic leaders express frustration over what they say was a lack of cooperation.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said he “couldn’t be prouder” of the historic $33-billion budget passed this session. He praised the one-time expenditures of HB 1, which include over $400-million toward clean water programs, $450-million toward transportation infrastructure, and $230-million toward stabilizing pension payments.

Thayer also cheered HB 6, the biennial budget, which increases SEEK funding for education by over 9 percent over the next two fiscal years.

“Because of the conservative management and fiscal discipline we showed during the budget process,” said Thayer, “Kentuckians by this time in 2026 will have their taxes cut, yet again, down to 3.5 percent.”

That tax cut is made possible by a trigger law passed in 2022 which reduces income taxes by half a percent when budget spending stays within a specified limit - which was accomplished this session due to HB 1 drawing from the state’s rainy day fund rather than the general fund.

Democrats, however, say the budget doesn’t go far enough to help ordinary Kentuckians. Neither Governor Beshear’s proposal for universal pre-k nor Senator Carroll’s ambitious Horizons Act made the cut, leaving the childcare industry - and the parents depending on it - in a precarious position.

“Consider this: the GOP majority chose to pass a tax cut on the sale of gold bars, but refused to pass a tax cut on diapers,” said Colman Elridge, Kentucky Democratic Party Chair.

Elridge characterized the Republican agenda as “radical and out-of-touch.” He criticized their refusal to assign Hadley’s Law, which would have allowed exceptions to Kentucky’s strict abortion law in the case of rape, incest, or nonviable pregnancies, and spoke against the passage of SB 5, the Safer Kentucky Act, which criminalizes street camping and has language originating from a Georgia policy paper.

Minority Caucus Chair Representative Cherlynn Stevenson, Minority Floor Leader Senator Gerald A. Neal, and Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge held a press conference on the Capitol steps following the end of the 2024 legislative session.

“Over and over again, Kentucky Republicans have overlooked Kentucky’s working families and, instead, passed policies that help wealthy donors and imposed a far-right agenda led by out-of-state activists,” said Elridge. “In some cases, verbatim.”

Many bills utilizing out-of-state language were identified as “anti-LGBTQ” by the Fairness Campaign, an advocacy group promoting the passage of Fairness ordinances - community civil rights legislation outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender in employment and housing. HB 47, a “religious freedom” bill, would have weakened those protections - but it didn’t pass. Neither did SB 239, which would have granted medical workers the ability to deny care to patients based on moral objections, or SB 147, which would have restricted drag performances.

Chris Hartman, Executive Director of Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign, says HB 47, SB 239, and SB 147 all contain language and rhetoric which originated outside of the state. However, the bills were unsuccessful; Hartman credits this to the work of grassroots activists across Kentucky, many of whom were mobilized after last year’s passage of SB 150.

“We look at the victories this year,” said Hartman. “Not just Kentucky stopping every anti-LGBTQ bill, but West Virginia stopping every bill; Florida stopping pretty much every bill; Georgia stopping every bill. We’re seeing this trend of returning to the time before the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric reached a fever pitch across the nation and the Commonwealth.

Senator Mike Wilson sponsored SB 6, an anti-DEI bill which seemed poised to pass up until a house amendment made substantial changes to his original proposal. He attributes the bill’s failure not to grassroots activism, but to communication failures between legislators of the same party.

“There were some constitutional issues that we were concerned about in regards to that bill - which was House Bill 9, they actually took all of my bill out and put House Bill 9 in - that we couldn’t get past,” said Wilson.

Now, both parties are turning their focus toward this fall, when Kentuckians will vote on a constitutional amendment which would allow public dollars to be spent on private schools.

In 2021, a previous legislative effort to create scholarship tax credits supporting private school tuition was struck down by the state Supreme Court as unconstitutional. This session, HB 2 puts “parental school choice” on the ballot.

Minority Caucus Chair, Representative Cherlynn Stevenson, says public schools are the largest employer in most of Kentucky’s counties, and school choice would weaken their ability to meet their students’ needs.

“I think that Kentuckians are smart enough to see through that effort,” said Stevenson. “It’s absolutely an effort to destroy our public schools and we are going to win. That amendment will absolutely fail.”

Thayer disagrees.

“I think it has a very good chance to pass, but I’m also not naive,” said Thayer. “There will be a lot of money spent to try to defeat it, but we think that there are going to be groups coming into Kentucky - and groups from Kentucky - who are going to be investing heavily in media and grassroots to pass the Amendment 2 this fall.

Thayer says, since he is not running for reelection, he plans to devote his time toward campaigning for the amendment’s passage.