Senate Week in Review

By Johnny Ray Turner

FRANKFORT — The seventh week of the 2016 General Assembly marked the halfway point of the 60-day session and saw the passage of an education measure that would change the evaluation method of the Kentucky Academic Standards.

Critics have characterized the current standards as bureaucratic burdens that have kept teachers from teaching. Furthermore, the standards were misaligned with student assessments.

Senate Bill 1, which I opposed, would create a new structure to review academic standards by establishing an academic review panel consisting of gubernatorial appointees, legislators and the state education commissioner. This measure politicizes our public education. Who are we to tell teachers, superintendents and principals how to teach school?

Another provision would allow foreign-language classes and computer classes to count as high school arts and humanities course credits. This bill underestimates the value of arts and humanities of which many of our students have a great appreciation and is what keeps them engaged.

I believe Kentucky Academic Standards have helped the commonwealth graduate more of its low-income students than any state in the nation, increased reading and math skills among elementary and middle schools students, improved the ACT scores of students, and boosted graduation rates to an all-time high.

As a former educator, I am always an advocate for teachers and education. SB 1 just contained too much that I could not agree with for me to support. Also, the Kentucky Education Association opposed this measure.

Although I could not support this bill, I was in favor of an amendment that would direct the Kentucky Department of Education to name a task force to study changes made to public education since 2009’s education initiative. Unfortunately, this amendment failed. I am hopeful that when SB 1 gets to the House, that chamber will share my concerns.

A number of other proposed laws passed the Senate this week and await action in the House of Representatives. Those bills include:

– Senate Bill 5 concerns the state’s marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state-level bans on same-sex marriage last year. SB 5 would remove the county clerk’s name from the license, include the sex of the people getting married and exclude their Social Security number. It would also create two forms – one with a “bride and groom designation.” Couples could request either form.

– Senate Bill 126 concerns enclosed three-wheeled vehicles sometimes referred to as “autocycles” that have increased in popularity in recent years. It would specify that autocycles be classified as a type of motorcycle under Kentucky law when dealing with the titling, registering and selling of the vehicles. When autocycles wreck, however, they would be classified as a motor vehicle and not a motorcycle. The legislation also excludes autocycles from a law requiring anti-lock brakes.

– Senate Bill 130 concerns shielding child pornography from public view when prosecuting the pornographer. It would restrict who has access to child pornography used as evidence during criminal trials while keeping the proceedings open to the public.

– Senate Bill 136 would enhance penalties for trafficking synthetic drugs in addition to prohibiting three drugs currently not addressed by law – Kratom and the designer opioid drugs W-15 and W-18.

– Senate Bill 137 is a proposed state constitutional amendment relating to legislative redistricting. It would remove the state constitutional requirement that counties not be split and replace it with a requirement that the General Assembly only divide the number of counties necessary to achieve substantial population equality. In addition, SB 137 would require the legislature to remain in session – without pay – if they fail to redistrict as required by law.

With more than half the session behind us, the pace will continue to pick up. The last day for introduction of new Senate bills is March 3. Senate leaders said they hope to move all bills originating in the Senate in the next two weeks. Bills passed out of the House would be considered after that.

While the Senate waits for the House – where spending bills must originate – to pass out its budget bills, the Senate has moved ahead with hearing testimony on the budget proposed by the governor. The Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations and Revenue has taken testimony on the proposed budgets from cabinets that include justice and health and family services.

On Thursday, many of the local officials from around the state were in Frankfort for Kentucky Association of County Official Day. It was good to be able to talk to our leaders from back home to hear their concerns and priorities for our district. Their input is important because they are making decisions in our community every day. I appreciate all those from my district who came to Frankfort and took the time to visit with me. Their guidance, as is the input from all my constituents, is vital to all my work in Frankfort.

To comment on a bill, please call the legislative message line at 800-372-7181. You can also e-mail me at [email protected]

By Johnny Ray Turner

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