The actions of the General Assembly during the 2023 legislative session confounded us at times. While we certainly don’t agree with any legislator 100% of the time, there are still ways we can find common ground and at the very least agree on a process.

In the juvenile justice realm – we’ll go into bill details below – members of the House and Senate demonstrated thoughtful and careful consideration. The much debated House Bill 3 was given time, intentionally filed early so feedback could be heard, it could be amply debated, and the workgroup could further dig into the challenges facing that system. 

On the other hand, there was a mad dash to make big decisions that significantly impacted our most vulnerable kids. We saw quick and uninformed decisions made around Senate Bill 150 that impact both the health and safety of kids in the Commonwealth, as well as the rights of their parents to help guide them in making decisions for their well-being. Unfortunately, while legislators aimed to make a big statement about their ideologies, kids were caught in the crossfire. 

Like most legislative sessions, Kentucky’s kids saw some movement in the right direction and big wins on the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children priority agenda. They also saw missed opportunities and policy decisions that were not aligned with the data, research, and what advocates for kids want to see happen. 

Where we saw movement for kids and families:

Building on momentum around maternal health in 2022 when postpartum Medicaid coverage was extended to 12 months, we saw successful efforts to further support new moms and babies in 2023. Senate Bill 135 – a bill with bipartisan support – crossed the finish line and will provide additional education on perinatal mood disorders and evidence-based screening tools, as well as ensuring collaborative efforts to improve postpartum care and maternal health outcomes. 

We also saw several wins on the economic security front this session. Youth experiencing homelessness got a major boost with the passage of House Bill 21, which allows unaccompanied, homeless youth to obtain an ID without parental permission and lowered the cost of an ID for homeless individuals. 

The Department for Community Based Services and the House and Senate Families and Children Committees also gave a major win to families in poverty and kinship caregivers by updating the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Programs (K-TAP) regulations for the first time in over two decades. These updates include doubling the benefit amount, increasing program eligibility, making it easier for two parent families to access, mitigating the benefit cliff, and expanding supportive services. 

Two bills were signed by the governor that focus on recent concerns about safety and workforce capacity within the Department of Juvenile Justice, as well as broad concerns about community violence. House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 162 were both bicameral, bipartisan efforts put forth to tackle ways to maintain public safety and get kids back on the right track when they make a mistake. 

  • HB 3, sponsored by Representative Bratcher, saw many positive committee substitutes, including language to ensure that youth are screened for intellectual disabilities at the earliest point of contact within the juvenile justice system and are referred accordingly, as well as allowing youth serving community organizations to get connected to youth while they are detained. 
  • Necessary funding was allocated in SB 162, sponsored by Senator Carroll, to support salary increase for youth workers in detention centers, hiring additional youth workers, security upgrades to detention center buildings, and more. 

Check out an overview of these bills on our blog.

FaceItIn recent years the child welfare system has become an arena that increasingly sees bi-partisan support – this year followed that trend. Two significant wins and also priorities of the Face It Movement policy team were SB 229 and SB 48: 

  • Senate Bill 229, sponsored by Senators Raque Adams, Yates, and Carroll, will help reduce gaps in child maltreatment reporting as well as provide opportunities for relationship building between the Department for Community Based Services and families:
    • Ensures that if maltreatment is suspected of an employee of a reporting agency, it must be reported accurately and in a timely manner directly to an appropriate external reporting agency.
    • Clarifies that agencies cannot utilize a chain of command process so that reports are made directly from the professional who suspects abuse with key details and insight around the alleged maltreatment.
    • Allows the Department for Community Based Services to do an assessment rather than an investigation, when appropriate, as a means to strengthen prevention and early intervention efforts and build a more collaborative relationship with the family facing an investigation.
    • Takes steps to establish an Agency Representation Model to improve efficiency within the child welfare system by allowing the transfer of case hearings to the Office of Legal Services within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
  • Senator Meredith sponsored Senate Bill 48, which establishes an independent Ombudsman’s office for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. This bill will help ensure that reports are being investigated to their full extent without conflict of interest. 

Where there were missed opportunities for kids and families:

House Bill 288 is a priority that nearly made it to the finish line this session. It would have, among other things:

  • Ensured public and certified nonpublic schools complete initial background checks and obtain reference checks of potential employees from previous employers; 
  • Required applicants to disclose if they have been the subject of investigation, allegation, disciplinary actions, resignation, or termination regarding sexual misconduct in the past year; 
  • And require training for educators on appropriate communications, sexual misconduct, and grooming. 

Child sexual abuse and grooming goes underreported every single year and Representative Tipton’s HB 288 would have created more pathways to ensuring adult-child interactions in schools are safer and more appropriate. 

Two Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children and Bloom Kentucky economic security priorities did not make it across the finish line this legislative session. 

  1. Evictions disrupt every part of a family’s life, and once an eviction is filed it remains on a person’s record forever, making it difficult for them to find safe, stable housing in the future. Senate Bill 134 would have given families with a history of evictions a pathway to housing stability by creating a process to automatically expunge evictions after a set period of time. 
  2. Another item that we continue to follow with Bloom Kentucky partners is House Bill 93, which would have created a pathway for survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking to get access to unemployment insurance if they needed to leave their job as a result of those issues. Unfortunately this priority didn’t see committee assignment, while in previous years it successfully made it through the House. 

Despite the growing concerns about vaping and e-cigarette use among Kentucky youth, we did not see any significant efforts to mitigate this crisis during the 2023 session. 

  • Although House Bill 310 hinted at holding tobacco retailers accountable for underage sales, it did not provide comprehensive guidelines for enforcing tobacco sales to youth – such as Tobacco Retail Licensing outlined on the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children agenda. 
  • Contrary to research on this topic, another effort to address youth tobacco use was highlighted in House Bill 370, which suggested applying harsher punishment when kids purchase, use, or possess tobacco products – a strategy that has been proven ineffective in reducing teen vaping.  

While there were some significant wins within the juvenile justice arena, we were disappointed that establishing a minimum age that a young person can be charged, was again overlooked. As we continue to hold important conversations pertaining to young people making mistakes, we hope the General Assembly will keep the momentum going to establish accountability that is developmentally appropriate.

Looking Ahead to 2024

As soon as the gavel fell to mark the end of the 2023 legislative session, Kentucky Youth Advocates and our Blueprint partners began to look ahead to 2024. In the coming months we will see a Gubernatorial race heat up, especially after the primary in May, and a significant focus on the upcoming biennial budget that will be developed during the 60-day session beginning in January 2024. 

Recently our Making Kids Count Podcast, Terry Brooks and the Kentucky Youth Advocates’ policy team take a detailed look at the 2023 Kentucky General Assembly, Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children wins and missed opportunities, and what it means for kids and their families — listen in HERE or your favorite podcast app.

KYA and Bloom Kentucky are also looking forward to getting out into the state to listen to advocates from all sectors and all levels of experience and interest. Stay tuned for an exciting announcement around a Listening Tour coming to a city or town near you in May and June. We can’t wait to see you all soon!