Three key bills pass General Assembly on final day of session

Three key bills pass General Assembly on final day of session
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 10:13 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Thursday was the final day of Kentucky’s 30-day legislative session.

Bills related to sports betting, medical marijuana and the bourbon barrel tax all passed through both chambers and are headed to the Governor’s desk.

“I’m thrilled to death. This will help so many Kentucky patients have safe access, and I’m just thrilled,” said Julie Cantwell with Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis on the passing of Senate Bill 47.

Cantwell has been championing the legalization of medical marijuana for years. Her son suffers from seizures and, like many, has been traveling out of state for treatments. SB 47 will change that, allowing the sale and use of medicinal cannabis in Kentucky starting in 2025.

“We’ve been doing this for nine years now. It’s very emotional. Every year we come up year after year and are told no and that it’s a gateway drug and things we know aren’t true,” Cantwell said. “To finally have people listening to us. I don’t even know what to say. It’s right. It’s right. It’s medicine, and God put it here, and we’re going to help Kentucky patients, and it just makes me so happy.”

While The bill passed the House, another closely watched bill passed the Senate in a 25-12 vote. House Bill 551 passed the House and a senate committee on Wednesday, but Many thought the bill, which legalizes sports betting, might never make it out of Senate alive.

“It creates difficulty for me because, as a Republican, I don’t want us to be in your house. That’s why I’m not a Democrat. We don’t want to show up and start measuring your bedroom. That’s why I’m not a Democrat. There’s a lot of things about being Republican, like we respect your privacy,” Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, explaining his yes vote.

The bill will allow Kentuckians to bet on college and pro sports through a computer, phone or mobile device or by going to a horse track-owned facility in Kentucky.

“We want you to be able to do us these things and have business and capitalism and these ideas,” Smith said. “This was a difficult one for me to want to reach into someone’s house and say no, you cannot do that.”

And gaining its final passage on the last day of the legislative session, House Bill 5 gives a tax break to the bourbon industry. It gradually lowers the property tax for distilleries from 2026 to 2042.

Opponents say it does away with the revenue needed to fund everything from county sheriff’s offices to fire departments.

“This will put more of a tax burden on my constituents and the people of Kentucky,” said Rep. Candy D. Massaroni, R-Bardstown.

Those in favor of this bill say it is needed to save jobs in an industry that is growing in Kentucky.

“We still have mechanisms to address fire districts, EMS and local government agencies with a replacement tax that will be paid with 2023 numbers. We also have provisions for SEEK funding, school funding, for the districts,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton.

Petrie said industries will be responsible for paying this tax.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association released a statement saying:

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association and its 52 member distilling companies applaud the Kentucky General Assembly for final passage of House Bill 5, the common-sense compromise that phases out the state’s discriminatory Bourbon barrel tax.

The final compromise reached in HB 5 strikes a fair balance by protecting funding for schools, fire departments and EMS districts while giving local governments 20 years to plan and diversify their tax bases instead of relying on the ups and downs of a singular industry.

In return, Kentucky distillers will finally receive equal treatment with every other manufacturer whose goods are not taxed during the production process, and our state and signature industry are on the pathway to a more competitive tax code.

Distillers are protected against an astronomical 525% hike in barrel tax revenue, which would have forced them to make tough business decisions on where to grow. Even with this relief, distilling remains Kentucky’s highest taxed industry, paying $286 million in taxes each year.

We are hopeful Gov. Andy Beshear will see the many benefits of HB 5 and sign the legislation into law. We also hope communities and distillers can move forward together to continue creating good-paying local jobs and attracting millions of tourists from around the world to our famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® experiences.

The KDA thanks the leadership of Senate President Robert Stivers, House Speaker David Osborne, Senate A&R Chairman Chris McDaniel, House A&R Chairman Jason Petrie, and House and Senate leadership from both sides of the aisle.

We also thank all lawmakers who voted for this historic and critical legislation in a bipartisan fashion to preserve, protect and strengthen our homegrown industry. Thanks to your support, Kentucky will remain the one, true and authentic home for Bourbon.

We also appreciate the continued support of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, Americans for Tax Reform, the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, and Bourbon fans who made their voices heard.

Most importantly, we toast our members who have been working to equitably end this punishing tax since the end of Prohibition. To them, we raise a glass and say thank you and cheers to our venerable family of Kentucky’s finest distillers.

Governor Beshear did tweet his support for both House Bill 551 and Senate Bill 47 Thursday night.

Governor Beshear says he will sign both the medical marijuana bill and sports betting bill Friday morning in Frankfort, at 10.