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New Lawmakers in the 2021 Kentucky General Assembly

Renee Shaw hosts a discussion with new lawmakers in the 2021 Kentucky General Assembly. Guests: Sen. Brandon Storm (R-London); Rep. Jennifer Decker (R-Waddy); Rep. Pamela Stevenson (D-Louisville); and Sen. Karen Berg (D-Louisville).
Season 28 Episode 4 Length 56:34 Premiere: 02/01/21


Kentucky Tonight

KET’s Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, brings together an expert panel for in-depth analysis on major issues facing the Commonwealth.

This weekly program features comprehensive discussions with lawmakers, stakeholders and policy leaders that are moderated by award-winning journalist Renee Shaw. Often aired live, viewers are encouraged to participate by submitting questions real-time via email, Twitter or KET’s online form.
For nearly three decades, Kentucky Tonight has been a source for complete and balanced coverage of the most urgent and important public affairs developments in the state of Kentucky.

Viewers with questions and comments may send e-mail to or use the contact form. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 1-800-494-7605.

After broadcast, Kentucky Tonight programs are available on and via podcast (iTunes or Android). Files are normally accessible within 24 hours after the television broadcast.

Kentucky Tonight was awarded a 1997 regional Emmy by the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The series was also honored with a 1995 regional Emmy nomination.

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Renee Shaw is Moderator and Director of Public Affairs for Kentucky Educational Television, currently serving as host of KET’s Kentucky Tonight, Connections, election coverage, Legislative Update and KET Forums.

Since joining KET in 1997, Shaw has produced numerous KET public affairs series and specials, including KET’s nationally recognized legislative coverage. Under her leadership, KET has expanded its portfolio of public affairs content to include Kentucky Supreme Court coverage, town hall-style forums, and multi-platform program initiatives around issues such as opioid addiction and youth mental health.  

As an award-winning journalist, Shaw has earned top awards from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, earning two regional Emmy awards, and an award from the Kentucky Associated Press for political coverage of the state legislature. She was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2017. She has been honored by the AKA Beta Gamma Omega Chapter with a Coretta Scott King Spirit of Ivy Award; earned the state media award from the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2019; named a Charles W. Anderson Laureate by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet in 2019 honoring her significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues; earned the Anthony Lewis Media Award from the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy for her work on criminal justice reform in 2014; and, in 2015, received the Green Dot Award for her coverage of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.  

In 2018, KET earned a national media award from Mental Health America for its multi-dimensional content on the opioid epidemic shepherded by Shaw. That same year, she co-produced and moderated a six-part series on youth mental health that was awarded first place in educational content by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. In 2019, Shaw was recognized by The Kentucky Gazette as one of the 50 most notable women in Kentucky politics and government. In addition, Renee was awarded the Charles W. Anderson Laureate Award by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues.

Host Renee Shaw smiling in a green dress with a KET set behind her.

Legislators Discuss the State Budget, Limiting Executive Powers, and Other Issues

As lawmakers return to Frankfort this week, they face a range of issues to tackle in the remaining 21 days of the General Assembly session. In addition to passing a one-year state budget, which they are required to do by March 30, legislators are also expected to consider bills on medical marijuana, gaming, teacher pensions, and taxes.

There’s also the matter of impeachment petitions against Gov. Steve Beshear and other state officials, as well as potential gubernatorial veto overrides of legislation dealing with executive powers, state courts, and regulation of abortion providers.

During the opening days of the session, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate passed three bills that change a governor’s powers to declare emergencies and issue executive orders and administrative regulations. A fourth bill seeks to reverse many of the public health measures Beshear put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor vetoed each of those measures. On Tuesday lawmakers voted to override those vetoes.

“I don’t think this is a stripping of executive power,” says freshman Rep. Jennifer Decker (R-Waddy), who represents Shelby County.

Decker, who is an attorney, says the measures are designed to correct state statutes that she contends give governors emergency powers that are too broad, especially in circumstances like a pandemic that can last for many months.

“The powers that were given have now been extended to really creating policy over a long term, and that is the proper role of a legislature,” says Decker. “This bill, as I see it, restores the balance of power... so that in the future, we will be ready for any type of emergency.”

In November the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld many of Beshear’s emergency actions as constitutional. But Decker argues that just because the measures are constitutional doesn’t make them effective or appropriate long-term policy.

Sen. Karen Berg, a Louisville Democrat and radiologist who won a special election to the Senate last summer, says the GOP-backed measures are more about partisanship than policy.

“This is a political battle to maximize the power of the Republicans,” says Berg. “They are taking advantage of this pandemic to do this.”

Berg contends Beshear saved thousands of lives precisely because he was able to take swift and decisive action. She says involving the legislature in an emergency response is unwise and impractical.

“To get 138 elected legislators from around the state, teach them what they need to know, and then ask them how do we respond to a national health crisis, it doesn’t make sense,” says Berg.

Rep. Pamela Stevenson (D-Louisville) agrees that involving the legislature in such situations would be too cumbersome. The attorney and retired U.S. Air Force colonel also says the legislation violates the constitutional balance of power between the state’s chief executive and legislature.

“I am a big believer... in democracy working the way it was intended to,” says the first-term representative. “If you have one branch trying to tell the other branch how to run their business, then it doesn’t work. It nullifies the checks and the balances.”

Decker says legislatures in many states are reviewing gubernatorial emergency powers, including Indiana, where Republicans control the legislative and executive branches of state government.

London attorney and fellow legislative freshman Sen. Brandon Storm says the governor’s statewide emergency mandates aren’t good policy because what’s best for Paducah may not work for Pikeville. The Republican argues the collection of bills on executive power passed by the legislature will create better governance of the commonwealth.

“It affords transparency, it affords checks and balances, and it affords the people’s branch of government to have equal footing and equal say in what’s going on in our lives,” says Storm.

Beshear’s emergency actions are at the heart of an impeachment petition filed against the governor by four Kentucky citizens (one of whom has since requested his name be removed from the petition). A special House committee is considering that petition. Storm and Decker say they won’t comment on the case, since they could be called to vote on the matter should the petition be referred to the chambers.

Stevenson questions why Republican leadership has handled this impeachment petition differently by forming a special committee rather than simply referring it to the House Judiciary or Rules Committees as has been done in the past. She contends Beshear shouldn’t be impeached for doing the best he can to protect Kentuckians from the coronavirus. Berg says the legislature has much more important things to do with its limited time.

Fiscal Priorities

The four lawmakers share some common ground when it comes to budget issues, saying education funding, infrastructure, and economic development should be fiscal priorities for the state. Stevenson says the best way to get the economy back on track is to get COVID under control. She says families and small businesses need pandemic relief, and she says it is past time for the state to fund better roads and broadband internet access for all Kentuckians.

“We have to have an infrastructure,” says Stevenson. “You either pay now or you pay later. Since we didn’t pay then, we’ve got to pay now.”

Decker says more economic development, not higher taxes, will solve the state’s budget woes.

“We cannot tax our way into prosperity,” says Decker. “We have to get our economy open safely. We have to get people back to work.”

The Republican says businesses also need liability protection from COVID-related lawsuits. While infrastructure is a critical concern for Decker, she says she’s not convinced the state needs to increase the gasoline tax to fund road and bridge projects.

From the senators’ perspective, Storm says his district needs substantial infrastructure improvements. He also expects lawmakers to consider ways to restructure the state’s public employee and teacher pension programs.

Berg says COVID relief for families and education funding are among her priorities, especially restoring funding cuts to higher education. She contends businesses won’t look to locate or expand in the commonwealth without a better-trained workforce.

Medical Marijuana

Lawmakers will also likely consider legislation to allow the use of marijuana for specific medical purposes. A similar bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate.

Storm says he’s heard comments both for and against medical marijuana, but he says lawmakers should not take up the issue so long as marijuana is listed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

“Until that issue can be resolved by the federal government, I don’t know that the Kentucky legislature should really take a step into that area,” says Storm.

Berg says the federal scheduling of marijuana is a racist “shame on our history,” which prevents American scientists from conducting much needed medical research on the plant. She says there’s scientific data from other countries that proves marijuana’s effectiveness as a treatment for epilepsy and chronic pain. She says it also helps people in addiction recovery be less likely to relapse.
“It is not the danger that people think it is,” says Berg, “and for a lot of people it makes a difference.”

Stevenson says that by not legalizing medical marijuana, the government is needlessly interfering in medical care.

“We need to get out of the business of telling doctors how to advise their patients,” says Stevenson.

Decker says many of those same benefits can be derived from cannabidiol (CBD), an active ingredient in marijuana and hemp. In 2014 state lawmakers approved limited use of CBD from industrial hemp for certain medical conditions.

“So I’m not clear why we need medical marijuana when we have the same properties in an already legal drug,” Decker says.

Decker and Storm also fear that allowing medical marijuana will open the door to legalizing recreational marijuana, which they oppose.

Gov. Beshear has said he wants to tax the production and processing of medical marijuana to help pay the state’s costs of regulating a medicinal program. Berg says she opposes taxing medical marijuana, since state law precludes taxes on prescription drugs. But she says the state should legalize and tax recreational marijuana, and use the revenues to fund teacher pensions.

The Legislative Calendar

House Speaker David Osborne (R-Prospect) has proposed a constitutional amendment that would remove the mandate that the legislature adjourn on certain dates. Lawmakers could then reserve some working days for use later in that calendar year. Under House Bill 4, lawmakers would call themselves into session to use those days. The measure passed the full House in early January and awaits action by the Senate.

“This is great idea,” says Storm. “Issues in our lives don’t just occur during the session, so we need to be flexible.”

But Democrats fear more protracted sessions will be less convenient for citizen-lawmakers that have to hold regular jobs. Berg also says the proposal could cost taxpayers more money by allowing legislators to pay themselves to work extra days.

“What are the limits on that?” says Berg. “What is to stops us from abusing that?”

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Season 28 Episodes

City and County Issues

S28 E38 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 12/13/21

Compensating College Athletes: Name, Image and Likeness

S28 E36 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/22/21

Trends in State and National Politics

S28 E35 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 11/15/21

Abortion Rights and Restrictions

S28 E34 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/08/21

Kentucky's Social Services System

S28 E33 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/01/21

School Choice in the Commonwealth

S28 E32 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/25/21

Historical Horse Racing: A Growing Pastime in Kentucky

S28 E31 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/11/21

New Developments and the Unknowns of COVID-19

S28 E30 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/04/21

COVID and the Classroom

S28 E29 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/27/21

Remembering 9/11, 20 Years Later

S28 E28 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/13/21

Kentucky's Response to COVID-19

S28 E27 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 08/30/21

Discussing the Surge of COVID-19 Cases in Kentucky

S28 E26 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 08/23/21

Fancy Farm Preview and State Politics

S28 E25 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 08/02/21

Back-To-School Issues in Kentucky

S28 E24 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/26/21

Childcare Challenges

S28 E23 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/19/21

The Urban-Rural Divide in Kentucky

S28 E22 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 07/12/21

Work Shifts: Kentucky's Labor Shortage and Hiring Challenges

S28 E21 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/28/21

Public Infrastructure: What Kentucky Needs

S28 E19 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/21/21

Debating Critical Race Theory

S28 E18 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/14/21

Kentucky's Rebound From COVID-19

S28 E17 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/07/21

Jobs and the Economy

S28 E16 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 05/17/21

The Future of Policing in America

S28 E15 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 05/10/21

President Biden's First 100 Days

S28 E14 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 05/03/21

Mass Shootings and Gun Laws

S28 E13 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/26/21

Voting Rights and Election Laws

S28 E12 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/20/21

The 2021 General Assembly: Debating Major Legislation

S28 E11 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 04/12/21

Wrapping Up the 2021 General Assembly

S28 E10 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 03/29/21

School Choice in Kentucky

S28 E9 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/22/21

No-Knock Warrants

S28 E8 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/15/21

Debating Legislative Priorities in the 2021 General Assembly

S28 E7 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 03/08/21

Proposed Legislation to Modify Kentucky Teachers' Pensions

S28 E6 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/22/21

Debating Historical Horse Racing Legislation

S28 E5 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/08/21

New Lawmakers in the 2021 Kentucky General Assembly

S28 E4 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/01/21

A Nation Divided

S28 E3 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/18/21

Recapping the Start of the 2021 General Assembly

S28 E2 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/11/21

Previewing the 2021 General Assembly

S28 E1 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/04/21

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