Local News



Bill Stephens

February 13th, 2017


By Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Dorsey Ridley

FRANKFORT —Lawmakers returned to Frankfort this week to reconvene the 2017 Regular Session with plenty of issues on the table. Many of those were addressed on Wednesday night in the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth Address. Unfortunately, Governor Bevin touched on a variety of issues, but never really offered any solutions to the problems.

Governor Bevin spent almost an hour on the concerns facing Kentucky families and promising that he would fix them. Yet he did not offer a proposal to correct these problems or reveal any vision toward that goal. He spoke rapidly, and even emotionally. However, his address appeared to be more campaign sound bites than a plan for Kentucky’s future.

He said an overhaul is needed in the state’s foster care and adoption programs, but did not offer insight into how it would be changed. He said we need to crack down on drug dealers, people who don’t respect law enforcement, and deadbeat dads, but gave no direction. He mentioned changes to higher education and public education, but other than affirming that charter schools are coming, he shared nothing to bring us closer to solving the problems plaguing education. It was the same with the other issues he mentioned. Problem, but no solution.

The Governor challenged us to “think big, be bold” in regards to tax reform. He suggested a tax increase – and said there will be sacrifices or in his words, sacred cows turned into hamburger. For consolation, he promised to cut the state’s inventory and estate tax. He also criticized the state of the Kentucky Retirement Systems and suggested major changes are needed. Both, he said, will be addressed in a special session later this year. He gave no hint to a solution. Furthermore, that special session will cost taxpayers money we don’t have – approximately $70,000 a day. I propose that the General Assembly reduce this 30-day session by five days – the number needed for a special session – to save funds. I do not see that being met favorably by the Republicans.

As you can see, there are many different opinions before us. But some issues we agreed on this week in the Senate included transparency in the retirement systems, delaying the school start day and freedom of religious expression.

Senate Bill 2 would make state retirement systems’ transactions more transparent, hold the systems accountable when contracting out services and require that pension trustees have actual investment experience. SB 2 is another attempt to provide legislators insight into the systems so we can provide appropriate oversight.

Senate Bill 50 would allow for a later start to the school year. Under this measure, schools would have the option to start later, a move that would help tourism and have an economic impact on local communities. Schools that start later would not have to adhere to the current 170-day academic year, instead slightly extending the school day to reach the required 1,062 instructional hours a year. This would not affect teachers’ salaries.

In response to the prohibition of scripture readings in a public school’s stage adaptation of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Senate Bill 17 would strengthen the expression of religious or political viewpoints in public schools and public postsecondary institutions.

These and all the bills that passed the Senate this week are now before the state House of Representatives for further consideration.

Along with passing bills on the floor, we have been hearing testimony and passing bills out of committee that are now before the full Senate. Some notable measures moving in committee this week include:

Tobacco use on school property. Senate Bill 78 would prohibit the use of tobacco products by students, school personnel, and visitors in schools, school vehicles, properties, and activities. If SB 78 gains approval of both chambers, the policies would be in place by the 2018-2019 school year.

Bicycle safety. Senate Bill 56 would require vehicular drivers to allow a distance of three feet when passing a cyclist on the left. It also allows vehicular drivers to cross the double yellow line when passing to ensure the three feet. It would require operators of bicycles to travel on the right side of the highway and not have to travel on the shoulder of the highway.

Department of Military Affairs. SB 82 would allow current and retired members of the United States military and their eligible dependents use of the morale, welfare, and recreation facilities under the control of the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs.

This week citizens were making their voices heard in Frankfort. Kentuckians from across the state filled the hallways, the committee rooms and met with us to discuss the issues of importance to them. I am always glad to hear from my constituents. Time is moving quickly for this legislative session. Next week we will focus on moving Senate bills for consideration because then we will have House bills coming our way. Your input is important to me as I make decisions on public policy.

You can follow the progress of bills from our Kentucky Legislature Home page (www.lrc.ky.gov). You can offer feedback through our Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. Citizens with hearing impairments can use the TTY Message Line at (800) 896-0305.

You can also e-mail me directly at dorsey.ridley@lrc.ky.gov.

Photo courtesy of Kentucky LRC

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