(KY) This Week at the State Capitol


March 31, 2017

This Week at the State Capitol

2017 Legislative session draws to a close

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky General Assembly wrapped up its 2017 legislative session on Thursday night after a final swirl of meetings, debate and eleventh-hour votes. After leaving Frankfort for a nearly-two-week veto recess, members of the House and Senate returned this week for two final days during which several major pieces of legislation achieved final passage and seem poised to become law.

One of the most closely-watched measures was Senate Bill 1, which makes sweeping changes to public education in Kentucky by changing how students, teachers, and schools are evaluated and held accountable. The bill is designed to return more control to local school districts, giving them a stronger voice in measuring and improving performance, including that of schools that are struggling.

Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, Kentucky schools would review and revise academic standards with recommendations from educators and suggestions invited from members of the public. Local school boards would also be responsible for evaluating teachers, the amount of paperwork now required of teachers and administrators would be reduced, and new locally-controlled accountability measures would be enacted for success indicators such as graduation rates and college admissions. The bill had widespread support from education groups and easily passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 1 comes on the heels of another major change for education in the Commonwealth – the passage of the charter schools bill earlier in March. House Bill 520 passed both chambers, clearing the way for local school boards to authorize and operate charter schools in Kentucky. Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, such schools can be established by contract and governed by independent school boards, providing students with programs that meet or exceed student performance standards adopted by the state’s Board of Education.

A third measure affecting Kentucky schools was House Bill 128, which establishes a method for allowing public high schools to offer courses in Bible literacy. The classes, which would be voluntary for schools to offer and elective for students to take, would be part of a school’s social studies curriculum. The bill passed the Senate on Wednesday after being cleared earlier by the House, so it is now in the hands of Gov. Matt Bevin.

Also achieving final passage this week was Senate Bill 120, which is designed to give convicted felons an easier path to successfully re-enter society. The bill would enable prisoners to gain work experience while still incarcerated, reduce probation and parole times for certain offenders, and prevent defendants from being jailed for inability to pay their court costs.

One of the week’s more vigorously-debated measures was House Bill 333, which would prevent physicians from prescribing more than a three-day supply of opioid painkillers such as fentanyl and carfentanil, with some exceptions allowed. The bill, which is now in the hands of Gov. Bevin, also increases penalties for trafficking in opioids and authorizes the Kentucky Office of the Inspector General to investigate trends in drug usage and trafficking in a further effort to tackle the state’s increasing problem with painkiller addiction.

Also achieving final passage this week were:

· House Bill 524, a measure to prevent and reduce human trafficking, including sexual and labor exploitation, in Kentucky. The bill requires public schools and highway rest areas to post hotline phone numbers for reporting human trafficking.

· House Bill 253, legislation to require unannounced welfare checks on children who have been the subject of reported child abuse or neglect. Such visits would continue until the child’s safety has been ascertained, and schools would be unable to deny access to a child who is the subject of an investigation.

· House Bill 309, which enables tenants who are victims of domestic violence to terminate a lease  with 30 days’ notice to their landlords and prevent abuse victims from being denied a lease because of their history as domestic violence victims.

Finally, the General Assembly voted this week to override Gov. Bevin’s vetoes on four pieces of legislation that had been approved by the legislature earlier in the session:

· Senate Bill 91, which will allow court-ordered outpatient treatment for certain mentally ill people and hospitalization in some cases after getting a petition from loved ones, legal guardians, law enforcement or medical professionals.

· Senate Joint Resolution 57, which will designate honorary names and sign placements on Kentucky roads.

· House Bill 540, which will create state regulations for drones.

· House Bill 471, which will create funding for public charter schools. The governor’s line-item veto on this bill would not have affected charter school funding, though. It only targeted a portion of the bill dealing with the disbursement of funds from a multimillion dollar legal settlement with Volkswagen

Although the legislative session has concluded, constituents are still encouraged to contact their Representatives and Senators to voice their opinions about issues of interest. If you’d like to share your thoughts and ideas with state lawmakers, please call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at (800) 372-7181, or find contact information for individual legislators at www.lrc.ky.gov.

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