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Reviewing the 2024 General Assembly

Renee Shaw and guests recap the 2024 General Assembly. Guests: Morgan Eaves, executive director of the Kentucky Democratic Party; Tres Watson, Republican political strategist and founder Capitol Reins PR; Abby Piper, founder and managing partner of Piper | Smith LLC, a government and public relations firm; and Jared Smith, a Democratic strategist and partner at Piper | Smith LLC.
Season 30 Episode 44 Length 56:33 Premiere: 04/15/24


Kentucky Tonight

KET’s Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, brings together an expert panel for in-depth analysis of 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.

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.

Often aired live, viewers are encouraged to participate by submitting questions in real-time via email, Twitter or KET’s online form. Viewers with questions and comments may send an email 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 800-494-7605.

After the 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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The Kentucky Tonight podcast features each episode’s audio for listening.

Renee Shaw is the Director of Public Affairs and Moderator at KET, currently serving as host of KET’s weeknight public affairs program Kentucky Edition, the signature public policy discussion series Kentucky Tonight, the weekly interview series Connections, Election coverage and KET Forums.

Since 2001, Renee has been the producing force behind KET’s legislative coverage that has been recognized by the Kentucky Associated Press and the National Educational Telecommunications Association. Under her leadership, KET has expanded its portfolio of public affairs content to include a daily news and information program, Kentucky Supreme Court coverage, townhall-style forums, and multi-platform program initiatives around issues such as opioid addiction and youth mental health.  

Renee has also earned top awards from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), with three regional Emmy awards. In 2023, she was inducted into the Silver Circle of the NATAS, one of the industry’s highest honors recognizing television professionals with distinguished service in broadcast journalism for 25 years or more.  

Already an inductee into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame (2017), Renee expands her hall of fame status with induction into Western Kentucky University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in November of 2023.  

In February of 2023, Renee graced the front cover of Kentucky Living magazine with a centerfold story on her 25 years of service at KET and even longer commitment to public media journalism. 

In addition to honors from various educational, civic, and community organizations, Renee has earned top honors from the Associated Press and has twice been recognized by Mental Health America for her years-long dedication to examining issues of mental health and opioid addiction.  

In 2022, she was honored with Women Leading Kentucky’s Governor Martha Layne Collins Leadership Award recognizing her trailblazing path and inspiring dedication to elevating important issues across Kentucky.   

In 2018, she co-produced and moderated a 6-part series on youth mental health that was awarded first place in educational content by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. 

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; and was recognized as a “Kentucky Trailblazer” by the University of Kentucky Martin School of Public Policy and Administration during the Wendell H. Ford Lecture Series in 2019. That same year, Shaw was named by The Kentucky Gazette’s inaugural recognition of the 50 most notable women in Kentucky politics and government.  

Renee was bestowed the 2021 Berea College Service Award and was named “Unapologetic Woman of the Year” in 2021 by the Community Action Council.   

In 2015, she received the Green Dot Award for her coverage of domestic violence, sexual assault & human trafficking. In 2014, Renee was awarded the Anthony Lewis Media Award from the KY Department of Public Advocacy for her work on criminal justice reform. Two Kentucky governors, Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Andy Beshear, have commissioned Renee as a Kentucky Colonel for noteworthy accomplishments and service to community, state, and nation.  

A former adjunct media writing professor at Georgetown College, Renee traveled to Cambodia in 2003 to help train emerging journalists on reporting on critical health issues as part of an exchange program at Western Kentucky University. And, she has enterprised stories for national media outlets, the PBS NewsHour and Public News Service.  

Shaw is a 2007 graduate of Leadership Kentucky, a board member of CASA of Lexington, and a longtime member of the Frankfort/Lexington Chapter of The Links Incorporated, an international, not-for-profit organization of women of color committed to volunteer service. She has served on the boards of the Kentucky Historical Society, Lexington Minority Business Expo, and the Board of Governors for the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 

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

Panelists Discuss New Laws and Failed Measures From an Active 2024 Session

As the dust settles on the just-completed General Assembly session, a panel of Frankfort insiders gathered on Kentucky Tonight to assess some of the legislation that lawmakers passed and several opportunities they missed. The guests were Kentucky Democratic Party Executive Director Morgan Eaves, lobbyists Abby Piper and Jared Smith of Piper | Smith LLC, and Republican strategist Tres Watson of Capitol Reins PR.

The State Budget and Education Spending

Lawmakers approved a new, two-year state budget totaling about $128 billion and an additional $2.7 billion in spending from the Budget Reserve Trust Fund for one-time projects.

“Did everybody get what they wanted? No,” says Jared Smith. “But did people get what they needed? Maybe.”

The spending plans include increases for public education through per-pupil funding known as SEEK and for student transportation, as well as money for infrastructure improvements ranging from water and sewer projects to airport upgrades. Tres Watson calls the investments “significant.”

“It’s really astounding the amount of money that’s being put back into the commonwealth,” says Watson. “It’s not sexy, it’s not going to make headlines, but I do think... this budget was a really good budget.”

Despite the education increases, legislators did not include a specific pay raise for teachers. Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, has called for an 11 percent bump for educators and school personnel, but Republican leaders continue to reject the idea of a statewide, across-the-board increase. Morgan Eaves says the spending for schools also fails to keep pace with inflation.

“Public education is the number one job creator in the commonwealth… and they’re continuing to underfund it,” says Eaves. “They’re still not giving money for textbooks and professional development for teachers. It’s not the best budget.”

Republicans contend the boost in SEEK funding will enable school districts to decide what pay raises are best for their localities. Even if lawmakers had approved an 11 percent increase, Abby Piper fears inequities in teacher pay would still exist between wealthier and poorer districts.

“We have people making $30,000 or less in the state of Kentucky as a starting teacher, and then we have folks in urban areas making a whole lot more,” says Piper. “That gap in particular would not have been addressed by the governor’s proposed 11 percent raise.”

Other measures may help with teacher recruitment and retention, says Piper. She points to separate legislation that will for the first time give student teachers a stipend, and create a pilot program to forgive student loans for those getting teaching degrees.

In a late budget clean-up bill, the legislature allocated $1.5 million to the Kentucky Attorney General for an electric reliability defense program. Watson says that money will help Attorney General Russell Coleman challenge regulations from the Biden Administration that could hurt coal-fired power in Kentucky.

“If the federal government is going to pass regulations that’s going to make that harder for the commonwealth, then the attorney general needs the firepower to be able to fight back,” says Watson.

Democrats say the budget missed opportunities to address wage compression among state employees where some new hires make more than workers who have been in similar positions for years. It also failed to fund a cost-of-living increase for state retirees who haven’t had an adjustment in a decade. Lawmakers had considered but then rejected giving a one-time bonus to help retirees offset rising inflation. Piper says those in the state retirement system need and deserve that increase, but she says legislators did allocate tens of millions of dollars to the public pension systems to continue to get those plans on a stable financial footing.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

House and Senate Republicans had proposed separate measures to limit diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at the state’s public universities. But in the end, both Senate Bill 6 and the tougher House Bill 9 failed to pass. Smith says the Senate measure, which prohibited teaching of or training on 16 divisive concepts, was at least palatable to higher education advocates, but he says they opposed the House bill, which would have cut funding for DEI programs and ended differential treatment based on a person’s race, religion, sex, or national origin.

Instead of passing one of the two measures, lawmakers tried to merge the House provisions into the Senate bill. Piper says that created friction with Senate Republicans, who disagreed on how strictly to define DEI initiatives. Watson says senators also had concerns about how the House provisions would impact the availability of scholarships for minority students and other underrepresented groups. Those issues, coupled with intense lobbying by university administrators and students ultimately led to the failure of both bills, they say.

Contentious Crime Bill Becomes Law

The panel agrees that House Bill 5, dubbed the Safer Kentucky Act, has some valuable components such as making carjacking a crime and strengthening the penalty for dealing fentanyl that results in an overdose fatality. But some panelists contend the legislation goes too far on a provision meant to crack down on street camping.

“You’re criminalizing homeless while you’re passing a budget that does not appropriate adequate funding for affordable housing,” says Eaves.

There’s also a fear that the measure will result in even more jail overcrowding and higher incarceration costs without addressing the root causes of the problem.

“We don’t have a homelessness problem. We have a drug problem and we need to focus on that,” says Piper.

Watson acknowledges the legislature didn’t address affordable housing, but he says they will do that in the future. He contends HB 5 is meant to get people off the streets, which he says are unsafe and unhealthy places to sleep, and into shelters. Watson also argues homelessness is largely a Louisville problem.

“Put the tools out there that are necessary to help make citizens of Louisville feel safe and to help businesses feel safe so that the engine of our commonwealth can keep running like we need it to,” says Watson.

Democrats also blasted the bill for lacking a full fiscal impact statement, and complained that Rep. Jared Bauman, the Louisville Republican who sponsored the legislation, relied on criminal justice research that wasn’t specific to Kentucky.

School Choice

Lawmakers approved a proposed amendment to the state constitution to allow public dollars to flow to private schools. That question will now go on the November ballot.

Watson contends school choice supporters are at a disadvantage when it comes to selling the amendment to voters. He says public school advocates can can summarize their opposition to the proposal by saying it’s unfair for state tax dollars to go to private schools most children can’t attend. Countering that argument with a clear, concise message, he says, will be much harder.

“It’s got an uphill battle, not because there’s not public support for it – every poll says that there is,” says Watson. “The messaging just becomes very difficult in a campaign cycle when the anti-side has a very simple message.”

Piper says it makes no sense to send tax dollars to private schools when lawmakers won’t pay public school teachers a competitive wage or give state retirees an COLA. She also argues that if the amendment passes, rural taxpayers with no school choice options will end up paying for Louisville children to attend private schools.

“It’s not about school choice... This is about school privatization,” says Piper. “It really flies in the face of 200-plus years of Kentucky’s constitution, which states public dollars go to public schools.”

Actions on Jefferson County Schools and Elections

The General Assembly targeted Jefferson County with several measures that drew heated debate. House Concurrent Resolution 81 will create a task force to study the management and operations of the Jefferson County Public Schools. Republican lawmakers have criticized the district for poor student performance, lingering achievement gaps, transportation failures, and a bloated administration.

“There’s clearly a failure of leadership in Jefferson County,” says Watson. “The more we can do to bring accountability and shine a light on what happened, what continues to happen, and what’s going to happen, it’s going to be better for the kids up there.”

Democrats criticized the resolution for targeting only JCPS when they say other school systems face similar challenges. About one in seven Kentucky children attend a Jefferson County school.

“I don’t have a problem looking under the hood,” says Eaves. But she adds, “I do think they have villainized our largest urban district and they’ve made it the bogeyman. I think in a lot of ways they’ve tried to make it a public education scapegoat.”

Critics also fear the task force is a precursor to splitting Metro Louisville into multiple school districts. Piper and Watson argue that makes no sense, saying it would only result in more administrative bureaucracy for the same number of schools.

Other legislation changes how Metro Louisville residents select their mayor and council members. Historically those elections have been partisan contests, but under House Bill 388 those races will now be nonpartisan.

Watson says that brings Jefferson County in line with other localities like Lexington-Fayette County that have nonpartisan municipal races. But Eaves says Louisvillians want partisan local elections and it’s not fair for Frankfort Republicans to dictate otherwise.

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Season 30 Episodes

Reviewing the 2024 General Assembly

S30 E44 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/15/24

Final Negotiations on the State Budget

S30 E43 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/25/24

School Safety

S30 E42 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/11/24

Early Childhood Education

S30 E41 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/26/24

Abortion Legislation

S30 E40 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/19/24

School Choice and Education Issues

S30 E39 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/12/24

State Budget Discussion

S30 E38 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/05/24

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Higher Education

S30 E37 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/29/24

Safer Kentucky Act

S30 E36 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/22/24

Legislative Priorities in the 2024 General Assembly

S30 E35 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/08/24

Governor Andy Beshear's Budget Address

S30 E34 Length 56:36 Premiere Date 12/18/23

2024 Legislative Preview: Part Two

S30 E33 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 12/04/23

2024 Legislative Preview

S30 E32 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 11/20/23

Analysts Discuss What to Expect on Election Day 2023

S30 E31 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/06/23

Candidate Conversations: Lieutenant Governor

S30 E30 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/30/23

Candidate Conversations: Governor

S30 E29 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/23/23

Political Analysts Forecast the 2023 General Election

S30 E28 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/17/23

Secretary of State; Commissioner of Agriculture

S30 E27 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/09/23

Auditor of Public Accounts; State Treasurer

S30 E26 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/02/23

Kentucky's Economy, Jobs and Taxes

S30 E25 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/25/23

Higher Education in Kentucky

S30 E24 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/18/23

Kentucky's Health Care Challenges

S30 E23 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/11/23

Education Issues in Kentucky

S30 E22 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 08/21/23

Fancy Farm Preview and Kentucky Politics

S30 E21 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/31/23

Kentucky's Energy Needs

S30 E20 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 07/17/23

Artificial Intelligence

S30 E19 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 07/10/23

Jobs, Inflation and the Economy

S30 E18 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/26/23

SB 150 and LGBTQ Issues

S30 E17 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/19/23

Horse Racing Safety

S30 E16 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 06/12/23

A Discussion of Gun Laws

S30 E15 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/05/23

Recapping The 2023 Kentucky Primary

S30 E14 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 05/22/23

2023 Primary Election Preview

S30 E13 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 05/15/23

Republican Candidate for Secretary of State

S30 E12 Length 15:00 Premiere Date 05/08/23

Republican Candidates for Governor

S30 E11 Length 1:29:20 Premiere Date 05/01/23

Candidates for Treasurer and Commissioner of Agriculture

S30 E10 Length 1:15:06 Premiere Date 04/24/23

Challenges Facing Kentucky Schools

S30 E9 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 04/17/23

Policy Analysts Recap the 2023 General Assembly

S30 E8 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 04/10/23

Recap of the 2023 Kentucky General Assembly

S30 E7 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 04/03/23

Kentucky Legislation on LGBTQ+ Youth

S30 E6 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 03/20/23

Student Discipline Legislation

S30 E5 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/13/23

Gambling Proposals in the Kentucky General Assembly

S30 E4 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/27/23

Kentucky's Teacher Shortage

S30 E3 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/20/23

Exploring Local Government Issues

S30 E2 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 02/13/23

Child Abuse and Neglect in Kentucky

S30 E1 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/06/23

See All Episodes

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Review of the 2024 Kentucky Lawmaking Session - S31 E3

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