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New Kentucky laws take effect: Health, education, sports wagering and more

Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building at sunrise.
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The Kentucky Lantern
Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building at sunrise.

Many of the laws passed by the General Assembly during the 2023 legislative session will go into effect Thursday, but not all of them.

For a bill to become a law in Kentucky, both the state Senate and House of Representatives must give a majority vote in favor of the bill. The governor may sign it into law or allow a bill to become law without signing it. If the governor issues a veto, the General Assembly can vote to override the veto.

According to a press release from the Legislative Research Commission, lawmakers passed more than 170 bills this year. The Kentucky Constitution says new laws must take effect 90 days after the General Assembly adjourns, which is June 29. Laws that are the exception have special effective dates, may be general appropriation measures or have emergency clauses which make them effective immediately.

“That means that, among many changes to state law this week, people convicted of murdering children will face tougher penalties, operators of gray machines could be subject to fines, certain workforce training programs will qualify for state scholarships, and wellness programs will provide more confidentially for doctors and police,” the LRC press release said.

Here are some of the laws that will be effective Thursday in Kentucky:


Kentuckians may not see many changes until the Cabinet for Health and Family Services develops and finalizes Delta-8 THC regulations, but provisions in House Bill 544 take effect Thursday. The law directs the cabinet to develop its regulations for areas such as product testing, packaging and labeling, and prohibit those under 21 from buying or processing Delta-8 products by Aug. 1. Beshear signed the law in March.

In 2022, a Boone County Circuit Court judge sided with the Kentucky Hemp Association in a lawsuit arguing that Delta-8 THC was made legal under a previous federal farm bill.

Delta-8 THC can produce a “high” similar to the Delta-9 THC compound found in marijuana. Some hemp farmers have been trying to find a market for extra CBD-rich hemp by synthetically converting it into Delta-8 THC, and it’s seen growing popularity across the state being sold in edibles and vapes.

Under a new state law, fentanyl test strips will no longer be classified as drug paraphernalia in Kentucky, unless the strips are used in manufacturing or selling the drug. After the General Assembly passed House Bill 353, Beshear signed the measure into law. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the paper strips can detect the presence of fentanyl in pills and other drugs within minutes.

House Bill 349 modernizes Kentucky’s HIV statutes. One felony removed related to prohibiting distribution of HIV self-tests. Another felony removed prevented people living with HIV from attempting to donate organs or other tissue, bringing it in line with the federal HOPE act that previously decriminalized those with HIV from donating organs to others living with HIV. Under the law, trichomoniasis was added to the list of sexually transmitted infections eligible for expedited partner therapy.

Kentucky’s HIV Is Not a Crime Coalition will hold events in Lexington and Louisville on Thursday to celebrate the law’s enactment. Legally for the first time, free HIV home-test kits will be distributed.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services must create a panel to focus on perinatal mental health disorders and have online resources under Senate Bill 135. Beshear signed the bill in March after the bill received full support in the House and Senate.

The proposal was created after legislators heard testimony earlier this session that showed at least 8.4% of Kentucky’s maternal deaths between 2017 and 2019 were from suicide and more than 90% of the state’s maternal deaths are preventable.

That’s on top of already dismal maternal mortality rates in the state, which failed its March of Dimes maternal and infant health report card last year.


Part of House Bill 3, which was legislation addressing issues in Kentucky’s juvenile justice system, will go into effect Thursday. Among its provisions, the law seeks to expand mental health interventions and increase options for restorative juvenile justice. The law also provided funds to reopen the Jefferson County Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Lyndon. Beshear signed the bill, which had bipartisan support.

A section of the law requiring juveniles charged with violent felonies be detained for up to 48 pending a detention hearing with a judge begins July 1, 2024. Supporters of the required stay say the time could provide youth with access to mental health resources, while others say youth could be detained longer than 48 hours during holidays and weekends.

Lofton’s Law, or Senate Bill 9, heightens criminal consequences for dangerous acts of hazing. First-degree hazing will be a Class D felony and second-degree hazing will be a Class A misdemeanor.

The law was created in honor of Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood, an 18-year-old University of Kentucky freshman who died from alcohol poisoning in 2021. Lawmakers gave the bill final passage on March 15. With Beshear’s signature, Kentucky became the 14th state to classify hazing as a felony.


A student discipline bill, House Bill 538, increased options for school administrators responding to students who disrupt and threaten the safety of others in the classroom.The law also gives schools more flexibility in placing students in alternative learning programs.

Beshear signed the bill into law after the General Assembly passed it.

Republican-sponsored House Bill 319 sought to recruit more public school teachers and increase retention while not making large appropriations during a non-budget year legislative session.

Under the law, Kentucky will join the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, easing licensing barriers for educators moving to the commonwealth. The Kentucky Department of Education will be required to create a statewide job posting system. Beshear signed the bill into law.

House Bill 547 codifies religious freedoms for public school teachers, faculty and staff, including employees engaging in religious expression and prayer during breaks and displaying religious items in personal spaces. Beshear signed the bill.

The law stems from a situation in Washington where a high school football coach was fired after leading his team in prayers on the field after games. The coach, Joseph Kennedy, was reinstated after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he was protected by the First Amendment.


The General Assembly passed and Beshear signed two landmark bills related to gambling in Kentucky.

House Bill 594 makes certain gambling machines called “gray machines” or “skill games” illegal in the state. Such slot-style devices common in many bars and gas stations across the state derive their moniker from their murky legal status that opponents characterize as illegal gaming. Under the new law, those managing or owning the machines could be subject to a $25,000 fine per device.

A manufacturer and operators of the machines have filed legal challenges against the law.

House Bill 551 legalized sports wagering, but most Kentuckians will not see many changes until the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission finalizes the regulations. The structure in the law regulates and taxes the activity.

This article was originally published by The Kentucky Lantern.

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.
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