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Child labor, drag and anti-DEI: Bills unlikely to make the cut in the Kentucky legislature

The 2024 legislative session is winding down. With only two legislative days remaining, the GOP majority are likely to use them to override the vetoes of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
Ryan Van Velzer
The 2024 legislative session is winding down. With only two legislative days remaining, the GOP majority are likely to use them to override the vetoes of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Several of the most high-profile GOP bills of the Kentucky legislative session this year looked like they would make it over the finish line before falling flat just ahead of the Democratic governor’s veto period.

Lawmakers have spent the session advocating and voting on high-profile and highly controversial bills to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion offices at public universities, to remove mandated lunch breaks, or to limit the governor’s pardon power.

They have one thing in common — after months of discussion, none of them passed the finish line ahead of the governor’s veto period.

It’s not the absolute end of the line for some of these bills. The legislature will reconvene for two days Friday and Monday to complete the session. But any bills passed will be subject to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto, and lawmakers won’t have the chance to override them.

And since the Kentucky Constitution requires each bill be read on each chamber floor three times before a vote, bills that haven’t received at least one reading also don’t stand a chance.

Here are some of the bills that received plenty of attention, but that lawmakers are likely to leave on the cutting room floor.

Anti-DEI bills

This year, the GOP supermajority filed three bills aimed at limiting or eliminating DEI, primarily at public colleges and universities. None of those attempts received final passage despite a great deal of attention.

It’s unclear exactly what caused the bills to fail. One bill that originally would have banned public colleges and universities from asking students or staff to endorse certain concepts that the bill describes as “discriminatory” seemed likely to pass the finish line.

But after SB6 passed the Senate and moved to the House, GOP Rep. Jennifer Decker from Waddy gutted it in a committee substitute and replaced it with her own version of an anti-DEI bill. The new version would have banned any use of resources on DEI offices or officers, training, initiatives, or the promotion of “discriminatory” concepts at public colleges.

GOP Senate Floor Leader Sen. Damon Thayer from Georgetown said that, at the end of the day, “We just made a decision in the caucus not to concur with the House changes.”

Beshear has been clear he supports DEI and is opposed to efforts to limit it.

"Diversity is an asset," he said in February. "It makes us stronger. It makes us better."

Rolling back worker protections

A couple bills that would strip Kentucky worker protections down to federal minimums also failed to pass the legislature. One to remove protections for child workers passed the House, but Democrats and some Republicans stood in opposition.

In a rare turn, House Bill 255, which would have allowed older teens to work later and longer hours, failed its first committee vote in the Senate, but later narrowly passed on a second attempt. And with the veto period looming, the Senate didn’t pick it up for a floor vote.

Another bill, sponsored by the same Republican Rep. Phillip Pratt from Georgetown, would have removed state-specific requirements that employers provide meal and rest breaks and provide seventh day overtime. Although it passed a committee vote, it never came up for a floor vote in either chamber.

Both bills were vehemently opposed by union advocates, who said they believed Kentucky should hold onto its state-specific protections.

Constitutional amendments

Although two constitutional amendments have already made it onto the ballot — one to ban non-citizen voting and another to allow the use of public funds on private schools — there’s room for two more, but it appears no proposed amendments have moved far enough in the process to pass in the last two days of the session.

GOP House Speaker David Osborne from Prospect sponsored House Bill 4, which proposed an amendment to allow the legislature to call itself back into session throughout the year. Voters rejected a similar, if wordier, attempt in a 2022 ballot referendum. But the bill doesn’t have enough readings to pass both chambers in the final days of the session.

Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel’s decade-long attempt to change the year of elections for constitutional officers, including governor, is also dead. Senate Bill 10 passed the Senate, the legislation failed to gain any traction in the House.

The senator from Ryland Heights’ other proposed amendment, Senate Bill 126, which would limit a governor’s pardon power at the end of their term, is in a similar boat. It passed the Senate but made no ground in the House.

Maternal and infant health

In a post-Roe world, lawmakers across the aisle have called for more support for mothers and infants, especially since Kentucky’s near total abortion ban went into effect in 2022.

The most prominent effort this session was House Bill 10, dubbed the “Momnibus” bill. It would improve insurance coverage for pregnant people, expand mental health services and increase access to educational services.

Osborne listed the bill as a top priority at the start of the session this year. Although it passed the House unanimously, the legislation did not come up for a vote in the Senate before the governor’s veto period and despite bipartisan sponsorship.

A committee substitute likely complicated support for the bill. It added a requirement that doctors refer women with nonviable pregnancies to counseling or “perinatal palliative care,” a provision from another bill that had not progressed far in either chamber. The last-minute change caused an uproar among Democratic women who had initially supported the Momnibus bill, but were in fierce opposition to the perinatal palliative care bill.

Another bill that aimed to bolster maternal health also failed to come to a final vote. Senate Bill 74 would have simply created a statewide child and maternal fatality review team to study the problem further. The bill passed the Senate unanimously but didn’t receive a vote in the House.

The Baby Olivia Act would require schools adopt “human growth and development” curriculum, apparently referring to a video produced by an anti-abortion group that some doctors have said includes inaccuracies and contains a biased viewpoint. That bill failed to proceed on its own in the process, but came back as a floor amendment on Senate Bill 74, which otherwise had bipartisan support.

Both of these bills could still end up passing in the last two days, but the controversial riders could throw a wrench in the works of otherwise apparently bipartisan legislation.

Other bills

  • SNAP restrictions: Legislation that would tighten eligibility for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program failed to pass a committee hearing after passing its first chamber. It’s rare for a bill to fail in a committee vote, but Republican senators expressed concern that the bill would have broad unintended consequences.
  • Abortion exceptions: Bills to create exceptions for rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormalities in Kentucky’s abortion ban have come from both sides of the aisle. And while the two pieces of legislation have captured headlines, neither have captured the interest of Republican leadership. 
  • Removing fluoridation requirements: Water in Kentucky has long included a small dose of fluoride, designed to strengthen teeth, especially in children. For several years, some Republican lawmakers have attempted to remove the fluoride mandate, but this is the first time in recent memory such legislation has received a committee vote. While House Bill 141 passed committee, it never made it to a floor vote.
  • Partisan Kentucky Board of Education elections: Although a priority bill in the Senate to make the Kentucky Board of Education — a governor-appointed body that oversees the state’s public schools — would switch to partisan elections. Senate Bill 8 passed a vote in the Senate but did not progress in the House. 
  • Teacher sick days: Another priority Senate bill would have limited the number of unused sick days that teachers could count towards retirement. It passed the Senate, and made progress in the House, but didn’t come up for a floor vote at the end of the day.
Sylvia is Kentucky Public Radio's Capitol reporter. Email her at
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