Stories about Kentucky

Kentucky institutes ID verification for unemployment insurance claimants

The Kentucky Office of Unemployment Insurance on Nov. 4 began requiring unemployment insurance claimants in the state to verify their identity with ID.me, a third-party verification provider, in order to receive benefits. The new verification requirements are aimed at limiting fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in the state.

Fraudulent unemployment insurance claims have, according to Labor Cabinet Secretary Jamie Link, periodically overwhelmed Kentucky’s unemployment insurance program during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and prevented the timely processing of valid claims. Kentucky paid $637.5 million in fraudulent unemployment claims between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“This strategic move is expected to help reduce the number of fraudulent unemployment insurance claims that have been a drag on the program,” said Link in a statement. “It will significantly reduce the amount of time our employees spend working on, or even handling, fraudulent claims and allow us to realign our resources to help those claimants who have waited far too long for assistance.”

Kentucky joins more than two dozen states already using ID.me to verify the identities of unemployment insurance claimants.

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Special elections to be held in Kentucky state legislative districts

Special elections are being held on Nov. 2 for one seat in the Kentucky State Senate and two seats in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Candidates running for special elections in Kentucky are selected by their respective local party organizations. The winners of the special elections will serve until Dec. 31, 2022.

  • In Senate District 22, Helen Bukulmez (D) is facing off against Donald Douglas (R). Sindicat Dunn filed as an independent write-in candidate. The seat became vacant after Tom Buford (R) passed away on July 6. Buford had represented the district since 1991. He won re-election in 2018 with 66% of the vote.
  • In House District 51, Edwin Rogers (D), Michael Pollock (R), and Timothy Shafer (I) are running in the special election. The seat became vacant after John Carney (R) passed away on July 17. Carney had represented the district since 2009. He won re-election in 2020 with 79% of the vote.
  • In House District 89, Maetinee Suramek (D) is facing off against Timmy Truett (R). The seat became vacant after Robert Goforth (R) resigned on August 24. At the time of his resignation, Goforth was facing domestic violence-related charges. Goforth had represented the district since 2018. He won re-election in 2020 with 71% of the vote.

Kentucky has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the state Senate by a 29-8 margin with one vacancy and the state House by a 73-25 margin with two vacancies.

As of October, 64 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 21 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Kentucky held 23 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D) announces retirement

On Oct. 12, 2021, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D) announced he will not seek reelection in 2022. Yarmuth has represented Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District since assuming office in 2007 and is the only Democrat to represent the state in congress.

“Truth be told, I never expected to be in Congress this long. I always said I couldn’t imagine being here longer than 10 years,” Yarmuth said. “After every election, I was asked how long I intended to serve, and I never had an answer. Today, I do. This term will be my last.”

Yarmuth has served as chairman of the House Budget Committee since 2019 and was involved in drafting the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. He is also a member of the Committee on Education and Labor.

As of Oct. 2021, 25 members of Congress—five members of the U.S. Senate and twenty members of the U.S. House—have announced they will not seek re-election. Fourteen members—five senators and nine representatives—have announced their retirement. All five retiring Senate members are Republicans, and of the retiring House members, six are Democrats and three are Republicans.

Eleven U.S. House members are running for other offices. Four Republicans and three Democrats are seeking seats in the U.S. Senate, one Republican and one Democrat are running for governor, one Republican is running for secretary of state, and one Democrat is running for mayor. No U.S. Senate members are running for other offices.

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Three Kentucky state legislative special elections added

Three new state legislative special elections have been added to our list. The special elections are for the District 22 seat in the Kentucky State Senate and the District 51 and 89 seats in the Kentucky House of Representatives. There are no primaries, and candidates will be chosen by party county executive committees.

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Kentucky state Rep. John “Bam” Carney dies

Kentucky state Rep. John “Bam” Carney (R) died while in office on July 17, 2021, due to long-term health issues. 

Carney was first elected to represent House District 51 in 2008. He most recently won re-election in 2020, defeating Richard Steele (D) 78.6% to 21.4%. He was elected as state House majority leader in 2018 and served in that role until January 2020, when House Republicans named Rep. Steven Rudy (R) to serve as acting majority leader while Carney was ill. 

Carney was admitted to the ICU with pancreatitis in December 2019. He had spent the past year and a half in hospitals and was diagnosed with pneumonia in June 2021. He died on July 17 at age 51.

“Our hearts are broken at the loss of our friend and brother, Bam Carney. Bam was a passionate educator, an outstanding legislator, and a tremendous leader for our Commonwealth,” House Speaker David Osborne (R) said in a statement. 

Carney is the second member of the Kentucky legislature to die this month; former state Senator Tom Buford (R) died on July 6.

When a vacancy occurs in the Kentucky General Assembly, a special election must be held to fill the vacant seat. The governor must call for an election if the General Assembly is not in session. If lawmakers are in session, the presiding officer in the house where the vacancy happened calls for the election. The person elected to the seat serves for the remainder of the unexpired term. Carney’s term was set to expire on December 31, 2022.

Kentucky is one of 25 states to fill state legislative vacancies through special elections.

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Illinois, Kentucky end face-covering requirements

Two states ended statewide public mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people between June 5-11.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) moved the state to Phase 5 of reopening June 11, ending the statewide mask mandate. The state still requires masks in schools, on public transit, in hospitals, and at congregate facilities like prisons and homeless shelters. Masks are also recommended in indoor public spaces for individuals who are not fully vaccinated. 

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) ended the statewide mask requirement, remaining social distancing requirements, and all capacity restrictions June 11. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people still have to wear masks on public transit, at schools, and in healthcare settings.

In total, 39 states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. At the time of writing, 13 states had statewide mask orders, including 11 of the 23 states with Democratic governors and two of the 27 states with Republican governors. Of those 13 states, at least 11 exempted fully vaccinated people.

Of the 26 states that have fully ended statewide public mask requirements, 14 have Republican governors and 12 have Democratic governors. Twenty-three states ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) ended its mandate through court order.

Idaho voters to decide in 2022 if the legislature can call itself into special session

The Idaho State Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2022 ballot that would allow lawmakers to call a special legislative session. The measure would authorize the president pro tempore of the state Senate and the speaker of the state House to convene a special session of the Idaho State Legislature upon receiving a joint written request from 60% of the members of each chamber. The special session called by the state legislature would have to start no later than 15 days after a written request is received. The special legislative session would be restricted to the subjects specified in the written request from legislators. The amendment would also require organizational legislative sessions on the first Thursday of December following a general election.

Currently, only the governor is authorized to call the state legislature into a special session regarding a specified subject.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states authorize the governor or the state legislature to call a special session, and 14 states authorize only the governor to do so.

Kentucky voters will be voting on a similar ballot measure in 2022 that would extend the power to call a special legislative session from solely the governor to the House speaker and the Senate president.

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before Idaho voters, a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote is required in both the Idaho State Senate and the Idaho House of Representatives.

This amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 102 on Feb. 26, 2021. On March 3, the state Senate passed SJR 102 in a vote of 24-11. On April 20, the state House approved the amendment in a vote of 54-15 with one absent. All but seven Republican legislators voted in favor of the amendment, and all Democratic legislators voted against the change.

The amendment is the first ballot measure certified in Idaho for the 2022 ballot. Between 1996 and 2020, 27 of the 37 ballot measures appearing on Idaho ballots were approved by voters.

So far, 25 statewide measures have been certified for the 2022 ballot in 15 states.

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Kentucky voters will decide an amendment in 2022 saying there is no right to abortion in the state constitution

The Kentucky State Legislature referred the No Right to Abortion in Constitution Amendment to the November 8, 2022 ballot. The amendment would add a section to the Kentucky Bill of Rights that states: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

In Kentucky, a 60% supermajority vote in each chamber of the Kentucky State Legislature during one legislative session is required to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot for voter consideration. The Kentucky House of Representatives introduced the amendment as House Bill 91 (HB 91) on January 5, 2021. The state House approved the amendment 76-20 on February 25, 2021, along party lines. All voting Republicans and two Democrats approved the amendment in the House. Twenty Democrats voted against the amendment. Three Democrats and one Republican were absent. On March 30, 2021, the state Senate approved the amendment in a vote of 32-6.

Rep. Joseph Fischer (R), the sponsor of the amendment, said, “HB 91 simply assures that no Kentucky court will ever be able to fashion an implicit right to abortion from the language of our state Constitution. There will be no Roe vs. Wade decision in Kentucky.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said, “This constitutional amendment is a blatant effort to take away Kentuckians’ fundamental rights and prevent individuals from making the health care decisions best for them and their families.”

This is the second amendment of its kind to be certified for the 2022 ballot. Kansas voters will be deciding a similar amendment on August 2, 2022. The amendment would reverse a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that ruled there was a right to abortion in the Kansas Bill of Rights. The amendment would add a section to the Kansas Bill of Rights to state that there is not a right to abortions and the government is not required to provide funding for abortions. The new section would also add that the state legislature has the authority to pass laws to regulate abortion. 

As of January 2021, at least 10 states, according to The Guttmacher Institute, provided a state constitutional right to abortion based on court rulings. The rulings were based on constitutional rights to privacy, equality, and liberty. Ballotpedia has identified six ballot measures in the past to amend state constitutions to declare that nothing in the state constitution provides a right to abortion. The most recent measure was approved in Louisiana in November 2020 with 61.1% of the vote. Tennessee (2014), Alabama (2018), and West Virginia (2018) also previously approved measures to declare no right to an abortion in their respective state constitutions. In Massachusetts (1986) and Florida (2012), these constitutional amendments were defeated.

The Kentucky State Legislature also referred another constitutional amendment to the ballot that would allow the state legislature to change the end date of the legislative session through a three-fifths vote in each chamber. It would also provide that a special legislative session up to 12 days may be jointly called by the House speaker and the Senate president and add that laws take effect on July 1 in the year the act was passed or 90 days after it is signed by the governor, whichever is later.

The Kentucky State Legislature adjourned on March 30. 

From 1995 to 2020, 12 measures appeared on the ballot in Kentucky, of which, 10 were approved and two were defeated.

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Kentucky legislature certifies amendment to authorize changes to legislative session end dates and special sessions

On March 15, the Kentucky State Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment to voters in November 2022 that would authorize the legislature to change legislative session end dates through a three-fifths vote in each chamber. It would also authorize the House speaker and Senate president to jointly call a special legislative session for up to 12 days. Currently, the state legislature can only be called into a special session by the governor.

The amendment would remove specific legislative session end dates from the constitution and instead provide that odd-year sessions are limited to 30 legislative days and even-year sessions are limited to 60 legislative days. The amendment would also add that no law would take effect until July 1 in the year it was approved or 90 days after it is signed by the governor, whichever is later. Currently, the state constitution states that laws take effect 90 days after the legislative session in which it was passed adjourns.

This amendment was introduced as House Bill 4 (HB 4) on January 5, 2021. To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a 60 percent vote is required in both the Kentucky State Senate and the Kentucky House of Representatives. The House passed the bill by a vote of 77-16, with seven members not voting, on January 7, 2021. The state Senate passed a different version of the bill on March 1, 2021, in a vote of 31-4, with three members not voting. The House concurred on March 15, 2021.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne, the sponsor of the amendment, said, “If we’re going to be here, then let’s be as effective as we can possibly be. Let’s be as efficient as we can possibly be. … We don’t want to fall into that trap of becoming a full-time legislature. We need to honor the intent of our service as a part-time legislature.”

From 1995 to 2020, 12 measures appeared on the ballot in Kentucky, of which, 10 were approved and two were defeated.

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Four new Kentucky bills would limit the governor’s emergency powers

On Jan. 7, the Kentucky State House and Senate passed four pieces of legislation aimed at limiting the emergency powers of the state governor.  

The first bill, House Bill 1, would allow any businesses, schools, or associations to remain open as long as their operating plans meet or exceed guidance issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The bill aims to override restrictions placed on businesses and other groups by Governor Beshear (D) in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It passed in the House with 70 votes in favor and 25 opposed.

The second bill, House Bill 5, would limit the authority of the governor to temporarily reorganize administrative agencies and transfer personnel without legislative approval. It passed in the House with 73 votes in favor and 22 opposed.

The third bill, Senate Bill 1, would limit the power of the governor during states of emergency. The bill would sunset after 30 days executive orders issued by the governor related to restrictions on in-person meetings and the functioning of schools, businesses, and churches unless the legislature approves an extension. The bill also allows the state legislature to terminate declarations of emergency at any time. It passed in the Senate with 27 votes in favor and nine opposed.

The final bill, Senate Bill 2, would make it more difficult for the governor to direct state administrative agencies to make emergency regulations without justifying the emergency nature of the situation. The bill defines an emergency situation and requires agencies to demonstrate such emergencies with documentary evidence to receive approval for new regulations from the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee. It passed in the Senate with 31 votes in favor and six opposed. 

The General Assembly may override a possible gubernatorial veto with a majority vote in both houses.

To learn more about state responses to the administrative state or the COVID-19 pandemic, see here:

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Text of House Bill 1:

Text of House Bill 5:

Text of Senate Bill 1:

Text of Senate Bill 2:

News report about the bills:

Kentucky legislative procedure: