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GOP lawmakers discuss medical cannabis, taxes and abortion ahead of 2023 session

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Divya Karthikeyan
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Kentucky Public Radio
Senator Damon Thayer and Representative Jason Nemes discussed their legislative priorities at the Louisville Forum.

Two of Kentucky’s Republican lawmakers discussed their top priorities for the 2023 legislative session at a Louisville Forum event Wednesday. One issue dominated: reducing state income tax.

Sen. Damon Thayer from Georgetown says the GOP-led legislature plans to pass a resolution in the first week and aim for a gradual reduction in income tax rates. Rep. Jason Nemes of Louisville, who will be Majority Whip next year, argues the measure would bring jobs and get Kentuckians to work.

“We’re doing it because we believe that we want to grow, we’re not doing it so individuals will necessarily have money in their pockets. We’re doing it so we can grow the economy, grow so we can have more jobs. As I’ve said, the biggest problem we have is workforce participation,” Nemes said.

Thayer said the Legislature will proceed cautiously on further measures.

“We will wait until the 2024 budget session, a year from now, if receipts are still good and the tax cut works, then we’ll talk about further reductions next year.”

Kentucky lawmakers passed the income tax cut earlier this year, automatically reducing the rate to 4.5% starting Jan. 1, 2023 and allowing the Legislature to consider lowering it further as long as the state continues to bring in more tax revenue each year.

Many Republican-led states have leaned in on lowering income tax rates as state coffers are flush with cash from federal pandemic aid and inflation. But opponents have argued the measure could lead to higher sales taxes on essential goods and services and hurt benefits like SNAP and Medicaid.

Republicans have had a leg up over Democrats in both the state House and Senate since 2016, and further boosted their supermajorities from 75 to 80 seats in the 100-member House of Representatives and 30 to 31 seats in the 38-member Senate.

While Thayer and Nemes did not offer much clarity on the possibility of a bill legalizing medical cannabis, they took aim at Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear for his recent executive orders relaxing the ban on medical cannabis.

Thayer said Beshear’s actions were for political gain in a re-election year.

“It’s ridiculous that he would take this issue which for some people is pretty emotional, because they suffer from maladies that they feel that marijuana can help them cure.”

Beshear has previously said that his actions are not a substitute for legislation, which only the General Assembly can pass.

“I’m voting no, if we have the votes I won’t stand in the way, that doesn’t mean it’s going to come for a floor vote to the state Senate, and I don’t know if we have the votes. But I won’t stand in the way” Thayer said.

Nemes, who has previously sponsored legislation to legalize medical cannabis, says he’s committed to gather more votes from his party to get the bill passed. He called Beshear’s actions “illegal.”

“I want to commend him for pushing medical marijuana forward. But he’s saying that ‘by virtue of having pardon powers, I have the right to rewrite the penal code.’ The legislature cannot do anything to overturn his illegal measure,” he said.

On the issue of whether the Legislature will take up a bill on abortion restrictions to include exceptions to the near total ban in cases of rape and incest, both Thayer and Nemes said it was completely reliant on the state Supreme Court’s decision.

“I think there’s a number of people in the house, including me who support exceptions for rape and incest, those are my positions. It’s a very thorny issue,” Nemes said.

The Kentucky Supreme Court heard challenges to two abortion bans, the six-week ban and trigger law, in November a week after voters voted down an amendment that would have added language to the state Constitution saying there was no legal right to abortion.

Some Republican lawmakers have since then mulled abortion bans that would include exceptions for rape and incest, which does not exist in the present bans or the failed amendment. But Thayer said any decisions that the Legislature can make would be “reactionary.”

The 2023 legislative session will be a short session on a non-budget year, numbering 30 days. The session will begin on January 3rd.

Divya Karthikeyan is the Capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a collaborative of stations including WFPL-Louisville, WEKU-Richmond, WKYU-Bowling Green and WKMS-Murray.
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