FRANKFORT — The coronavirus pandemic played a part in preventing the General Assembly’s born alive bill from becoming law during the 2020 General Assembly.
The legislation, known as Senate Bill 9 and sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, was considered a priority of the chamber, which is why it received the low number.
It’s original version would prohibit a person from denying or depriving a born-alive infant of nourishment or medically appropriate and reasonable medical care, with the intent to cause or allow the death of the infant, even if born alive after an abortion.
SB 9 was introduced on Jan. 13, the fifth day of the session, and had its first of three required readings on Jan. 15, with the second reading the following day. The measure was approved by the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee on Jan. 23, then cleared the full Senate on a 32-0 vote on Jan. 27, sending it to the House.
While it was sent to the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 29, it was not heard in committee until March 11, at which time it was approved and sent to the House floor. It had its second reading on March 12 and posted to the House Orders of the Day for March 17, making it eligible for a final vote.
Then the coronavirus struck, delaying final action on the legislation until April 15, the final day of the 2020 session.
The House added a provision from another bill, HB 451, which would give the attorney general the power to proactively pursue criminal or civil actions against an abortion provider who violates state law. The Senate quickly agreed to that change, and it was sent to Gov. Andy Beshear that night.
Beshear vetoed the measure on April 24, but since lawmakers had adjourned the session, they could not vote to override the veto.
House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, explained the process to Kentucky Today.
“As you know, the longstanding practice has been for each chamber to work on its own legislation before taking up bills passed by the other chamber. We received SB 9 and the Governor’s budget, almost simultaneously, and set to work immediately on our version of the budget,” he said. “We knew that SB 9 had strong bipartisan support and believed we could take it up in early March with plenty of time before the session adjourned in mid-April. At the same time, we sent the Senate HB 451, which gives the attorney general more oversight in holding abortion clinics accountable to the law.”
Then COVID-19 hit, diverting the attention of lawmakers to relief measures, and impacting plans for the remainder of the session, according to Osborne.
“While we were able to continue meeting by following CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID, we lost a week and a half of legislative days just as we were trying to work out an agreement to include HB 451 language in SB 9, and additional language that properly defines abortions as elective procedures for the purpose of emergency management orders.”
Osborne said: “We deeply regret not having the opportunity to override the Governor’s veto and are equally committed to seeing the provisions of this bill pass next session. I also want to stress that we passed a strong piece of legislation with bipartisan support, including at least one member of House Democratic leadership and almost a third of their caucus. The Governor had a choice, and he chose to veto a bill that reflects the values of our state and its people.
“Some may say we tried to do too much under the constraints facing us, but we were committed to doing all we could to protect life. While the Governor may have used his power to veto this proposal now, we will use ours to pass it into law next year.”