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COLUMN – KY SENATE WEEK IN REVIEW

COLUMN – KY SENATE WEEK IN REVIEW

WMSK Staff

January 29th, 2018

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By Senator Dorsey Ridley

FRANKFORT — The tone was somber in Frankfort this week as we mourned the tragedy that struck Marshall County. We were overwhelmed with compassion for that community whose sense of safety has forever been tainted by gunfire. We can only imagine the heartbreak and sorrow felt by the family and friends of the two 15-year-old victims senselessly slain.
In the midst of the emotions, we found that disaster brings us closer. On the day of the shooting, Senator Danny Carroll was absent from our chamber because he had gone to Marshall County to be with the people he represents. While he offered them solace, we too sent our prayers and support to them. Standing in silence on the Senate floor, we were neither Democrats nor Republicans. We were Kentuckians — parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends — grieving in the aftermath of a horrific event.
Even as we mourned, we had to resume our work in Frankfort. We are still waiting on a bill from the Senate and House Republicans to address our pension problem. The Governor set the tone almost a year ago, saying he would call a special session before we convened in 2018 to address the public employee and teacher pensions, but there is still no bill. And, as we mull over the pension issue, we are still trying to understand the Governor’s “train wreck” that he calls a two-year budget.
This week, the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee held its first hearing on the Governor’s proposed budget. It would impose a 6.25 percent across-the-board cut to most state agencies and cuts funding for 70 programs, including Commission on Women, may teacher development programs, colon, lung and cervical cancer screenings, Kosair Children’s Hospital poison control center, Robinson Scholars Program and other scholarships, and various services for disabled children. State Budget Director John Chilton said the 70 programs were chosen after an analysis by his office and the cabinets that make up the executive branch. That analysis included what cabinets suggested cutting when asked in September to prepare for a 17.4 percent budget cut that was never fully implemented.
The appropriations and revenue committees from both chambers are currently combing through the Governor’s budget proposal. The House will present its version of the state’s two-year spending plan in the weeks to come.
As we continue diving into the executive budget proposals, we have made progress on legislation. Senate Bill 3, or Marsy’s Law, which would allow the question of state constitutional rights for crime victims to go on Kentucky’s statewide ballot this fall, has passed both chambers and been delivered to the Secretary of State’s office to begin the process of putting it on the ballot.
Action on the Senate floor this week included the passage of Senate Bill 73. The first part of this legislation would allow school districts to come up with a three-year pilot project for teachers’ professional development, require the local board of education to determine the parameters for the pilot program, and require the state education department to study the completed pilot projects and report its findings by August 2022.
The goal, in part, is to provide teachers with the professional development they need to improve their craft. The second portion of the bill phases out the so-called nontraditional instructional days, or NTIDs. The days were meant to enable students to continue their studies when schools were closed because of bad weather. About five years ago the General Assembly approved snow-day legislation that allowed school districts to use technology-based learning approaches on up to 10 school days.
Some school districts have provided assignments that are more rigorous for students than other districts and this has caused disparities in learning. The goal of this section of SB 73 is for all school districts to embrace the program so legislators can extend it beyond its sunset date of 2020-21.
Another education bill, Senate Bill 71, would require the inclusion of abstinence education in any human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases curriculum taught in our public schools.
Senate Bill 78 changes the educational standards for electricians by creating a provisional license for people with a minimum of six years of experience in the trade. The provisional license holder would have one year to pass a state exam and get a regular license. An additional clause in the bill would allow some electricians, whose licenses have lapsed, to have their licenses reissued. I could not support this bill because SB 78 lowers the standards for licensed electricians – a move that is a public safety hazard.
In the weeks ahead, the number of bills being vetted in committee and on the chamber floor will increase. Your input is more important than ever. To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305. Or you can email me directly at Dorsey.Ridley@LRC.KY.GOV.
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