Rep. Willner Legislative Update 2/26/2023

Dear Friends,
Having passed the halfway mark for the 2023 legislative session, only three bills have passed both chambers and become law so far:

House Bill 1 uses temporary revenue gains from federal dollars to make permanent tax cuts that will likely be debilitating down the road by preventing adequate investment in public education, public health, public safety, and other crucial services. (I voted no.)  House Bill 2 will help build Kentucky’s fifth veterans-only nursing home in Bowling Green.  (I voted yes.)  Senate Bill 10 was a non-controversial “clean-up bill” that made technical corrections to a business-related measure regarding registration of professional employer organizations.  (I voted yes.)

While it’s still too early to know what other bills will become law this session, we have now passed the filing deadline for new bills and have a better idea of what to expect. As of the deadline, nearly 900 bills were filed in the House and Senate, and about 60 have passed one of those chambers.

Two prominent bills that passed the House this week were HB146 and HB153.

HB146 rolled back a portion of the damage enacted in last year’s draconian HB4 that severely limited unemployment insurance benefits for Kentuckians who lost work through no fault of their own.  HB146 replaced a portion of what was taken away last year, allowing those eligible to receive a maximum of 16 weeks of benefits rather than the current 12.  It’s important to note that for 80 years prior to 2022’s HB4, Kentuckians were able to receive benefits for up to 26 weeks.

Even if HB146 becomes law, many Kentuckians will still have less time than in the past to get back on their feet and less chance to find a job in their field, putting their family incomes at greater risk.  That is especially likely for those living in rural areas or who lose their jobs mid-career or closer to retirement age.  Even though HB146 doesn’t undo all the damage done last year, I voted yes because it does mitigate some of the harm.

While HB146 lessens potential harm to Kentuckian, HB153 does just the opposite.  This misguided bill calls for Kentucky to effectively opt out of any federal efforts to rein in gun violence.  Specifically, the bill would bar local and state law enforcement agencies from enforcing any federal firearms restriction that has been enacted or re-interpreted since 2021.  There are real concerns about the constitutionality of a measure like HB146, and the bill has the potential to put our police officers in a precarious position in working with or obtaining funding from federal law enforcement.  With headlines dominated by mass shootings, and gun violence plaguing our own community, I spoke against this bill on the House floor and voted no.

A preview of likely coming attractions…

Reforms to Kentucky’s juvenile-justice system.  I wrote at some length about this in last week’s update, and in case you missed it, here’s my op ed with my colleague Rep. Keturah Herron. Juvenile justice-related bills have yet to come for a vote, but that could change any time. 

 Legalizing sports betting and medical marijuana.  The House passed versions of both last year, and there’s increasing hope that the Senate will finally sign off this year.  We’re among a small minority of states that haven’t adopted either, even with polling showing that Kentuckians overwhelmingly support both.  I support both of these initiatives, along with de-criminalizing cannabis.

 “Gray games,” the name given to slots-like machines found in many small businesses such as convenience stores and bars.  Supporters say these are games of skill, that they are a form of much-needed passive revenue for many mom-and-pop businesses, and that they should be regulated and taxed. Churchill Downs, the primary operator of slot machines in casino-like businesses across the state, opposes the competition from these machines and is pressing for a ban. 

Harmful anti-LGBTQ+ bills.  These dangerous bills pose a real threat to the health and well-being of trans and non-binary kids.  Efforts to advance “don’t say gay” bills, ban library books, and criminalize gender-affirming healthcare are being used as ammunition in a culture war without regard for the lives of the people who are harmed by politically-fueled rhetoric.  Supporters are spending an inordinate amount of time attacking trans kids who are asking for nothing more than respect and the ability to live their lives with integrity.  I oppose these bills with every fiber of my being, and I’m filled with gratitude for the large number of district 35 friends and neighbors who have reached out to express their opposition to these efforts.  

To contact me
If you’d like to contact me about these or any other bills or topics, you can email me at You can also leave a message for me or any other legislator by calling 800-372-7181 during normal business hours.

In community,