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Medical marijuana, gambling measures on life support with lawmakers

TOM LATEK | Kentucky Today

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Kentucky lawmakers began their 10-day  veto recess on Thursday, and will return to Frankfort on April 13 and 14 to consider overriding any vetoes by Gov. Andy Beshear, and can pass additional legislation.

Some of the high-profile bills still awaiting final action include two dealing with gambling.

House Bill 606, sponsored by Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, which cleared the House on March 18, would allow in-person fantasy and sports wagering in person at sites such as racetracks, as well as permitting the development of online and smartphone apps.

Koenig pointed out during floor debate that 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports wagering, and that there are billions of dollars already being wagered illegally in the state each year. “I think it’s important to bring those people out of the shadows, to dry up the black market, and make sure the people of the state have the benefits of their government protecting them.”

He estimated it would generate at least $22 million in tax revenue to the state each year, which would go to shore up Kentucky’s underfunded public pension systems.

But Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, responded, “The people of Kentucky, those wagering, would have to lose $220 million to get back $22 million for the state pension coffers. I believe we ought to make policy that puts jobs everywhere in the state of Kentucky, that would allow people to make money to pay taxes from their week’s work and get money that way, rather than policy that would take away from people with no reward. I oppose the bill.”

HB 606 has had two of three required readings in the Senate, but has not yet been heard in the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee, a requirement before it reaches the floor.

HB 608 would ban so-called “Gray Machines,” essentially slot machines, which have cropped up at convenience stores across the state in the last year or so, despite no legislative approval.

Supporters, like Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Lexington, say the machines cut into revenues from the Kentucky Lottery and charitable bingo operations, and are operating illegally. Opponents, including the machine providers, said the machines provide additional funds to the businesses that host them, and are games of skill. They also said the bill puts the state in the business of picking winners and losers.

The bill passed the House the same day as the sports wagering measure. It also won Senate committee approval and was placed in the Orders of the Day for Wednesday, but was passed over. It could be acted upon when lawmakers return.

Another bill on life support is HB 136, sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, which would legalize medical marijuana, but only for treatment of a limited number of conditions. This is the third time Nemes has proposed the bill. It has passed the House Judiciary Committee three times, and the full House twice, but has yet to get any traction in the Senate.

In 2020, the session ended early due to the pandemic, but this year Senate leaders say there is not enough support for the measure to pass.

HB 136 has been assigned to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee but has had none of the required three readings before a vote.  For it to pass during the last two days of the session, it would likely have to be tacked on to another bill that has already had one or two readings.

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