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Stories about Kentucky

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:

Additional reading:

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:



Incumbent Mitch McConnell (R) defeats Amy McGrath (D) in U.S. Senate election in Kentucky

Incumbent Mitch McConnell (R) defeated Amy McGrath (D), Brad Barron (L), and Randall Lee Teegarden (Unaffiliated) in the November 3, 2020, general election for U.S. Senate in Kentucky. As of Oct. 14, McGrath had raised $90 million—more than any other U.S. Senate candidate in the country other than Jamie Harrison (D). McConnell was sixth in fundraising nationally with $57 million.

We are tracking 16 of the 35 U.S. Senate races this year as battlegrounds. Heading into the election, Republicans held 12 of those seats Democrats held four. Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the U.S. Senate. Democrats need to win a net four seats to win an outright majority in the chamber.



Two incumbents defeated in Kentucky state legislative primaries so far

On June 23, 2020, voters across Kentucky cast their ballots in the state’s legislative primaries.

In total, there were six party primaries for state Senate seats and 32 primaries in the state House. By partisan affiliation, there were 13 Democratic primaries and 25 Republican primaries for a total of 38, a decrease from the 51 primaries held in 2018. Overall, the total number of major party candidates seeking state legislative offices in Kentucky has decreased from 289 in 2018 to 242 this year. Democrats experienced a greater decrease in candidates, down from 150 in 2018 to 106 in 2020. There were 136 Republican candidates this year, down from 139 in 2018.

Seventeen incumbents are not seeking re-election in 2020, three in the Senate and 14 in the House. In the Senate, one incumbent was defeated, so of the 19 seats up for election, 15 will feature an incumbent in the general election. One incumbent was also defeated in the House with one race remaining too close to call as of July 2. This means that of the 100 seats up this year, at least 84 will feature incumbents in the general election.

Incumbents defeated in the primary:

• Sen. Albert Robinson (R), Senate District 21
• Rep. Les Yates (R), House District 73

As of July 2, the primary between first-term incumbent Rep. R. Travis Brenda (R) and Josh Bray (R) remained too close to call. On July 1, Brenda officially requested a canvas of the vote after initial results showed Bray with 50.2 percent of the vote to Brenda’s 49.8 percent, a 30-vote margin.

Heading into the general election, Republicans hold a 29-9 majority in the Senate and a 61-37 majority in the House. In Kentucky, a simple majority of votes in each chamber is required to override a gubernatorial veto. In 2019, Andy Beshear (D) was elected governor, making Kentucky one of the 14 states with divided government. General election winners will be responsible for redrawing district lines after the 2020 census. In Kentucky, the legislature is responsible for drafting congressional and state legislative district plans, both of which are subject to gubernatorial veto.

Additional reading:
https://ballotpedia.org/Kentucky_State_Senate_elections,_2020
https://ballotpedia.org/Kentucky_House_of_Representatives_elections,_2020



McGrath wins Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Kentucky

Amy McGrath won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Kentucky and will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in the Nov. 3 general election.

With 99% of precincts reporting, McGrath had 45% of the vote to state Rep. Charles Booker’s 43%. Eight other candidates were on the ballot. The race was called Tuesday, a week following the election, as counties finished counting absentee ballots.

McGrath had raised $41 million as of June 3—more than any other U.S. Senate candidate nationally. The Senate candidate with the second-highest total was McConnell with $33 million. Two other Senate candidates nationally had raised more than $20 million; Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) with $31 million and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) with $21 million.

Among McGrath’s Democratic primary opponents, Charles Booker raised the second-highest amount of $793,000.

McGrath describes herself as progressive on some issues and conservative on others. She supports improving the Affordable Care Act and gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Booker ran as a progressive, backing Medicare for All, an immediate minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, and a universal basic income.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, VoteVets, and more than a dozen unions were among McGrath’s endorsers. Booker’s endorsers included Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Working Families Party, and the Sunrise Movement.

McConnell was first elected in 1984. Kentucky last elected a Democrat to the Senate in 1992.

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Voters decide state-level races in Kentucky, New York, South Carolina

On June 23, 2020, Kentucky and New York held primaries for state-level offices, and South Carolina held state legislative primary runoff elections. Candidates competed to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020.

In Kentucky, 19 state Senate seats and all 100 state House seats were on the ballot, along with one state supreme court seat and one state intermediate appellate court seat. 104 incumbents filed for re-election.

A special general election was held in District 26 of the Kentucky State Senate. The seat became vacant when Ernie Harris (R) retired from the legislature on April 15, 2020.

In New York, 63 state Senate seats and all 150 state Assembly seats were on the ballot, and 179 incumbents filed for re-election.

State legislative special elections in New York were scheduled to take place in one state Senate district and three state Assembly districts. On April 24, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo canceled the special elections. Those seats will remain vacant until the general election on November 3.

South Carolina held primary runoffs for races in which a candidate did not receive a majority of votes in the primary election, which took place on June 9. Eleven races were on the primary runoff ballot, including eight state House seats and three state Senate seats.

Kentucky and New York’s statewide primaries were the 24th and 25th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. Virginia also held a statewide primary for congressional offices. The next statewide primaries are on June 30, 2020, in Colorado, Utah, and Oklahoma.

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