Bill meant to improve math skills passes as Kentucky lawmakers reach end of legislative session

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Legislation aimed at improving the math skills of Kentucky students won final passage Monday as lawmakers considered the final stacks of bills before concluding this year's legislative session.

A measure intended to reduce the Bluegrass State’s maternal mortality rate reemerged with a late burst of momentum to clear the finish line during the flurry of action.

The session ended shortly after 8:45 p.m. EDT, marking the end of Republican Damon Thayer's more than decade-long run as Senate majority floor leader — unless lawmakers are called back into special session. This year's session was highlighted by passage of the state's next two-year state budget.

House and Senate members were serenaded with renditions of “My Old Kentucky Home" at the start of Day 60 of the session, which began in early January. They wrapped up tributes to retiring lawmakers and staff before plunging into the final round of votes to send bills to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

The Republican supermajority legislature will have no opportunity to consider veto overrides if the governor rejects any of the measures passed Monday. Republican lawmakers spent last Friday overriding a series of gubernatorial vetoes.

Bills gaining final passage Monday included legislation intended to provide a strong foundational education in math for Kentucky's elementary school students. House Bill 162 aims to improve math scores by expanding training and support for teachers and hands-on intervention for students.

Republican state Rep. James Tipton, the bill's sponsor, has called it a “significant step forward.”

“It will provide a mathematics education that ensures every student can excel," Tipton said earlier in the legislative session. “The educational standards of the past have failed to meet the needs of many students and left many students behind.”

The maternal health bill — affectionately dubbed the “Momnibus Bill” by supporters — was tacked onto a another measure in a maneuver by its lead sponsor — Republican state Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser — that proved successful. The expanded measure cleared both chambers with bipartisan support Monday and will head to Beshear's desk.

The goal is to reduce Kentucky's maternal mortality rate, which ranks among the highest nationally.

“This is a truly great piece of legislation that will absolutely save lives,” Democratic state Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong said Monday.

Moser has said the bill is a first step toward combating the high mortality rate. The measure includes mental health support and expands a voluntary home visitation program for new or expectant parents to include lactation counseling and education on safe sleep for infants.

“This legislation ensures that mothers across the commonwealth have access to care, while also addressing the increasingly high rates of substance abuse disorders and lack of mental health support and prenatal care," Moser said earlier in the legislative session.

Another bill winning final passage Monday is a regulatory follow-up to last year's action by lawmakers that legalized medical marijuana in the Bluegrass State starting in 2025. Local governments and schools will be allowed to opt-out of the state program.

The follow-up bill — HB829 — did not expand the list of conditions eligible for use of medical marijuana. Beshear had urged lawmakers to broaden access to medical marijuana to include a longer list of severe health conditions. Conditions eligible for medical cannabis when the program starts include cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy, chronic nausea and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Republican state Rep. Jason Nemes signaled Monday that the medical cannabis program is on track to launch at the start of next year. The program had faced a new challenge when the Senate put language in its version of the main state budget bill that would have set conditions to unlock funding to oversee the program. Nemes said that language was changed in the final version of the budget approved by legislative leaders and later by the full legislature.

“I think it's going to go forward," Nemes said. "The language that was in the Senate version of the budget was changed substantially. We still have the protections in place, but it will not be a poison pill, if you will. So I feel good about this. In Jan. 1, 2025, people who qualify will be able to get this medication.”

What lawmakers didn't take up on the final day also was significant. A bill proposing changes to the state's open records law died after the Senate took no action on it. A media attorney had warned it would have created a “giant loophole” enabling public officials to evade scrutiny.

The session's conclusion marked the end of an era with Thayer's pending Senate retirement at the end of the year. Once Thayer announced the Senate had concluded its final work on bills, he received a standing ovation from colleagues. In a final floor speech, Thayer said “it's been a joy and a privilege” serving in the Senate. As for what he will do next, he said: “Stay tuned.”

Bruce Schreiner And Dylan Lovan, The Associated Press