2024 Legislative Recap: The State of Civil Liberties in Kentucky

The 2024 Kentucky General Assembly concluded its long, 60-day session at 8:49pm on April 15. 

At the beginning of session, we announced our legislative priorities: improving maternal health, expanding access to paid leave, automating portions of the expungement process through Clean Slate legislation, and providing identification to all reentering society after incarceration. 

As always, our work in the legislature this year was two-fold: we fought to pass legislative priorities, and we fought back against attacks on civil liberties.  

So, how’d it go? Read on to find out more about the state of civil liberties in Kentucky post-General Assembly.

JUSTICE REFORM: House Bill 5, Clean Slate, Liberation Identification 

This was a tough session for justice reform policies. House Bill 5 — the “Safer” Kentucky Act — is one of most controversial and regressive justice reform bills the Commonwealth has ever seen. 

House Bill 5 makes massive changes to Kentucky’s penal code through tough-on-crime approaches that will cost Kentucky taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade. As made clear throughout session, HB 5 isn’t evidence-based policy supported by data, and nothing in this bill addresses the root causes of poverty, crime, or houselessness.  

This bill will cause irreparable harm to our houseless neighbors, entrap people with substance use disorder in the justice system, and exacerbate our mass incarceration crisis. We fought hard against HB 5, and while we were able to modestly amend the measure, it is set to become law. We will fight to mitigate its impacts for years to come. 

A criminal record shouldn’t be a life sentence to poverty, but having one can keep people from accessing housing, education, and employment opportunities, even long after their sentence is completed. That’s why we worked with the Clean Slate Initiative this session to bring legislation that automates portions of the expungement process to Kentucky.  

Despite bipartisan support for SB 218 and HB 569, these Clean Slate bills won't become law this year. Visit Clean Slate Kentucky for more information on how you can help us pass Clean Slate legislation next year and ensure eligible Kentuckians have every opportunity to thrive in our state.

REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM: North Star Abortion Bill, Exceptions, Momnibus Bill, Paid Leave 

Kentucky remains a forced pregnancy state, and we’ll never stop fighting to restore abortion access in the Commonwealth. That’s why we were proud to stand with a group of legislators who filed HB 428, the North Star Abortion Bill, which would undo most anti-abortion legislation and restore access to abortion care in Kentucky. We’ll continue to support the North Star Abortion Bill until it becomes law and access is restored in the Commonwealth permanently. 

Speaking of abortion, despite previous indications to the contrary, many legislators made it clear this session they are not interested in passing exceptions for Kentucky’s current total abortion ban. Sen. David Yates brought Senate Bill 99 — aka Hadley’s Law — which would have created clear exceptions for fetal anomalies, rape, and incest. That bill did not even get a committee assignment, and a last-ditch effort by Sen. Yates to discharge the bill and force a vote was blocked, leaving Kentuckians without any abortion access again for at least another year. 

If being a forced pregnancy state isn’t bad enough, Kentucky also has some of the worst maternal health outcomes in the US. It's clear that as forced births continue to increase in the Commonwealth, Kentucky families need harm reduction and support. That’s why we were proud supporters of House Bill 10, the “Momnibus” bill, which makes pregnancy a qualifying event for insurance, expands access to lactation counseling and safe sleep education, and studies the role of doulas in the birth process.  

Unfortunately, anti-abortion legislators saw House Bill 10 and Senate Bill 74, another maternal health bill, as opportunities to further their own extremist agenda. They tried to hijack HB 10 by adding language suggesting Kentuckians seek alternatives to abortion if their fetus has fatal anomalies and is incompatible with life, and attempted to add language to SB 74 that would have encouraged students to watch a video created by an anti-abortion group that contains scientific and factual errors. 

Thankfully, a clean version of HB 10 was tacked on to a clean version of SB 74 — a huge victory for maternal health in our state — and neither of these extremist anti-abortion bills will become law. 

No one should have to choose between their family and a paycheck, and it's past time for more Kentuckians to have access to paid leave. That’s why we advocated for two important paid leave bills this session: HB 179 and SB 142

Senate Bill 142 would have granted state workers four weeks paid parental leave. While SB 142 didn’t become law this year, it received bipartisan support, passed out of its original chamber, and laid the groundwork for more access to paid leave in the coming years. 

House Bill 179 is a technical bill that authorized the creation of an insurance product supporting paid leave in Kentucky. We’re happy HB 179 passed this year, as it is an important piece in the paid leave puzzle.  

FIGHTING BACK: Protecting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion & LGBTQ+ Rights

Racial justice is the cornerstone of our organization and the lens through which we do all our work, and protecting LGBTQ+ rights will also be at the forefront of our work. 

This year’s attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs are straight out of a national playbook. We amplified messaging from partner organizations, like the Louisville Urban League, to help keep anti-DEI bills SB 6, HB 9, and SB 93 from becoming law. We also partnered with organizations like the Fairness Campaign to fight anti-LGBTQ+ bills like HB 47 (an anti-Fairness Ordinance bill), SB 147 (this year’s anti-drag bill), and SB 239 (a healthcare discrimination bill). 

We’re thrilled NONE of these anti-LGBTQ+ or anti-DEI bills made it across the finish line this session and credit our partner organizations with leading the fight against these bills. 

VOLUNTEERS: Smart Justice Advocates, Mini Lobby Days, RFP Statewide Campaign 

Just like every year, we don’t do this work alone. The Kentucky General Assembly isn’t just for lawmakers and lobbyists — it’s a place where every Kentuckian must make their voice heard for change.  

Despite a tough year for justice reform — or perhaps because of it — more people than ever attended our Smart Justice Advocates Lobby Days! Around 30 of our Smart Justice Advocates visited with 16 legislators to share their personal experiences with the justice system, organized against HB 5, and advocated for Clean Slate legislation through a letter writing campaign.  

Around 50 volunteers participated in our Mini Lobby Days, for nearly 100 total meetings with legislators. We even had Mini Lobby Day participants secure “yes” votes and co-sponsorship from legislators on 2 of our priority bills this year!  

This year we kicked off our statewide reproductive freedom organizing campaign, including local action teams. Local action teams develop rapid response activities and proactive organizing strategies alongside ACLU-KY staff.  

During session, local action teams: 

  • held 4 monthly meetings;  
  • held 4 RFP Mini Lobby Days and an abortion access rally in conjunction with other orgs; 
  • held 2 Action All-Call events; 
  • reached out to legislators to help whip votes for our priority legislation; 
  • held text banks to support paid leave and Momnibus bills in a variety of legislative districts;   
  • activated people to email their legislators about paid leave, Momnibus, and North Star Abortion Bills; 
  • and collected paid leave and maternal health stories from volunteers. 


While the legislative session is over until next year, the work of protecting Kentuckians’ civil liberties never stops, and we rely on our partners and volunteers to help us with our advocacy and legislative work year-round.  

We’re grateful to all who helped us protect Kentuckians’ civil liberties. We do this work for you, and we can’t do it without you.