Universal pre-K, medicinal marijuana among Democrats’ legislative goals

Expanded voter access, governor's emergency powers also on list

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – On the eve of the state Legislature going into session, Democratic leaders in the state Senate and House issued several priorities Monday during a Capitol press conference.

The list includes some issues that have bipartisan support such as universal pre-K, legalizing medicinal marijuana and sports wagering. But the list also includes some controversial items that likely will face opposition from Republicans who have a super majority in both chambers. That’s especially true for restoring the governor’s emergency powers.

The issues include:

  • Codifying popular items in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), such as prohibitions against using preexisting conditions to not issue a policy or drop an individual due to their health condition, requiring preventative services at no cost, and allowing dependents to remain on insurance until 26 years old;
  • Expanding voter access by extending polling hours, allowing same day registration, and enhancing absentee voting and early in-person voting; and automatically restoring voting rights for nonviolent and nonsexual felony offenders after serving sentence, probation, or parole;
  • Universal Pre-K;
  • Allowing the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to regulate the licensure and operation of sports wagering, fantasy contests, and online poker gaming;
  • Legalizing medicinal marijuana; and
  • Restoring the emergency powers to the Governor.

“These issues are popular across the Commonwealth,” said Senate Democratic Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville. “After careful consideration, deliberation, and speaking with constituents, we feel the proposals we have laid out empower individuals and help our state move forward. We are hopeful that some, if not all, can advance with bipartisan work and support from our Republican colleagues in the Senate and House.”

Democratic members intend to file several bills in both chambers regarding the aforementioned topics. House Democratic Leader Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville, also expressed the importance of passing legislation that uplifts individuals and our state.

“There is great need for these proposals, which have had wide support from across the commonwealth over the years,” said House Democratic Leader Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville. “I’m hoping we can get behind these bills as a legislature, because they will raise much-needed revenue, provide medicinal relief, protect healthcare, restore long-standing gubernatorial powers and enhance voter access.”

McGarvey says after the deadly tornadoes in western Kentucky, it became apparent Governor Andy Beshear needed more than the 30 days allowed to make executive decisions regarding that disaster.

“Just last year, we passed a law that stripped the office of the governor of its powers after 30 days,” says McGarvey. “If the legislature weren’t in session right now, we’d have to call a special session of general assembly to declare that there was a tornado in west Kentucky. That’s not effective or responsible government.”

Jenkins says Kentuckians have told her they’re most concerned for their kids’ future. Jenkins says people want help and bills created for the addiction crisis, accessible education for their kids and job stability.

“As a minority caucus, I feel like our job is to hold the majority accountable, to ask those hard questions and to give other views and we will, our 25 members, will be doing that every day,” says Jenkins.

McGarvey says Kentucky is in a unique position right now with a billion dollar budget surplus as well as an overflowing rainy day budget.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of really healthy budget conversations,” says McGarvey. “We have to fund state government as it exists right now but we also have the benefit this session of being able to invest in the long-term future.”

Overall, the Democratic leaders say their hope for this session is helping Kentuckians with everyday concerns like healthcare and education, while pushing the state forward in areas like sports gambling. The proposals will now be considered by the Kentucky General Assembly during the 2022 Regular Session.

“I hope there’s a realistic chance of all of this passing,” says McGarvey. “We need to make sure that we have the right things in place to keep Kentucky moving forward and so we think that all of these bills are incredibly important.”

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