Today is the day that new laws passed earlier this year by the Kentucky General Assembly take effect.
Gov. Matt Bevin signed more than 130 bills into law, dealing with issues ranging from charter schools to drug control to doubling campaign contributions for state politicians.
This year’s legislative session was the first in which Republicans had control of both the state House and Senate as well as the governor’s office.
GOP lawmakers started off the session in January with a series of conservative “emergency” bills that took effect immediately — “right-to-work” legislation, repealing the prevailing wage, a ban on abortions after the 19th week in pregnancy and a requirement for doctors to describe fetuses to women seeking abortions.
But the majority of legislation took effect on June 29 — 90 days after the completion of the legislative session on March 30.
Here’s a rundown of some of the new laws:
Charter Schools: Starting this year, organizations like non-profits and neighborhood groups can apply to create new K-12 schools across the state. The organizations will receive public funding for the schools but will be exempted from most state regulations.
Students will be allowed to enroll in charter schools located within their school districts. Lotteries will be set up if too many students apply.
‘Blue Lives Matter’: Emergency responders like police and firefighters are now protected by Kentucky’s hate crime law. That means people who commit crimes involving police will be subject to enhanced penalties. Charges covered by the hate crime statute are criminal mischief, rioting, assault, menacing, abuse, unlawful imprisonment, rape or arson.
Religious Expression in Schools: In many ways redundant to First Amendment protections, Kentucky public school students now have a guarantee that they will not be punished for expressing religious or political beliefs in their school under this law.
Senate Bill 17 also bars school officials from interfering with the way religious or political student organizations select members and “doctrines and principles.”
This provision has drawn censure from the attorney general of California, who has blocked official travel to Kentucky over the law, saying it could allow groups to exclude students based on their sexual orientation.
Medical Review Panels: Medical malpractice and negligence lawsuits will have to be reviewed by a committee of doctors before they head to court.
Supporters of this new law say it will weed out frivolous lawsuits made against doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers, making the state more attractive to medical practitioners.
Opponents say the state will have to defend the new law’s constitutionality because it limits access to the courts.
Criminal Re-Entry: Kentuckians with non-violent criminal records can now apply for state professional and occupational licenses without being denied automatically.
The new law also allows private companies to employ state prisoners, creates a work release program for those housed in county jails and creates a drug court-type pilot program to supervise people with addictions who have been released from jail.
Criminal defendants also can no longer be jailed for being unable to pay court costs under the new law.
Public School Bible Classes: The state Department of Education will develop coursework for a Bible literacy course that would count towards an elective for public school students.
Increasing Campaign Contributions: Lawmakers voted to double the amount people can donate to Kentucky political campaigns — from $1,000 per election to $2,000 per election. The new law also raises the amount people can donate to political parties, including unlimited donations to funds for political party headquarters.
Gubernatorial Powers to Reorganize Public University Boards: The governor now has broad powers to reorganize the trustee boards of state universities in cases of “malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, or gross neglect of duty.”
The Republican-led legislature passed the measure after Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear sued Republican Gov. Matt Bevin for dismissing University of Louisville board members without cause.