Sen. Whitney Westerfield

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, speaks on Senate Bill 9 in the Kentucky Senate. The bill, known as the Born Alive Bill, requires medical personnel to provide life-sustaining care to all babies born alive. The bill was one of several bills passed by the Senate on the third day of the 2021 General Assembly Session. 

Those final two days are reserved for the chambers to vote on any vetoes issued by the governor. However, they can still take up any legislation they wish, so any bills and resolutions still pending are not officially dead until the chambers adjourn for good, on March 30, probably around 11:59 pm.

In years past, the presiding officers would order the large clock at the rear of the chamber be unplugged as they approached midnight on the last day of the regular session, so they could, and did, continue working, often until the sun came up the next morning, and not be in violation of the constitutionally-mandated end date.

However, with the advent of computers that practice ended as vote printouts show the actual time, which would likely trigger a lawsuit by opponents of any bills passed after midnight of the final day.

Of measures introduced this year, there are only two pro-life bills receiving final action from lawmakers.

One is Senate Bill 9, often referred to as the “Born Alive” bill.

“Whether it’s an abortion that didn’t work, or a premature birth, or whatever the circumstance might be, if a child is born alive, it must be given medical care consistent with whatever its needs are,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton. “This doesn’t change the standard of care, it doesn’t establish what that care must be, because medical professionals need to make that decision where they are at that moment, under the circumstances.”    

When governors receive a bill from the General Assembly, they can sign it, veto it or let it become law without a signature. Although Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a similar measure in 2020, which could not be overridden since lawmakers had adjourned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year Beshear took the third option, allowing it to become law without his signature.

SB 9 contained an emergency clause, so instead of taking effect 90 days after lawmakers adjourn, it became effective as soon as it became law.

Lawmakers also approved House Bill 2, which allows the attorney general to investigate and seek civil and criminal penalties for violations of Kentucky abortion laws, instead of requiring him to wait for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to make a request.

HB 2 was vetoed by Beshear, but both the House and Senate overrode the veto by substantial margins. Since it also contained an emergency clause, it took effect immediately following the override votes.

A third pro-life measure is two steps away from final action.

House Bill 91 is a proposed constitutional amendment that simply 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.”  

It easily passed the House and has had two of the three required readings in the Senate but is still in the State and Local Government Committee, which needs to approve it before it can reach the Senate floor.

As a proposed constitutional amendment, it is not subject to approval or veto by the governor. Instead, if passed by the Senate, it would go on the November 2022 ballot for voters to decide as there are no elections in 2021.

Another bill of interest is SB 83, a medical ethics bill. It would prohibit discrimination against medical care providers who decline to perform procedures that violate their conscience, grant providers the right not to participate in or pay for services that violate their conscience, exempt providers from liability for exercising these rights and establish a civil cause of action for persons injured by violations of these provisions.

It has two readings in the Senate, but still requires floor action as well as House approval. 

Given that there are only two days left in the session, the easiest path for this bill would be if it was tacked on to another measure that has passed one chamber and has had at least one reading in the other.

Any bills that win final passage from the House and Senate on March 29 and 30 could be vetoed by the governor without a chance for lawmakers to take an override vote, as the session will have ended before the 10-day limit for him to decide which action to take.

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