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Legislative Update – February 19, 2016

Heated floor speeches, huge committee hearings and the observance of Presidents’ Day highlighted the seventh week of the 2016 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. As we have passed the halfway point of this session, the countdown begins as we in the Senate anticipate the forthcoming 2016-2018 budget bill from the House of Representatives.

There was no shortage of bill movement in the Senate this week, as we passed two of our priority bills, Senate Bill (SB) 1 and SB 5.

Education was a hot topic in Frankfort this week, and the much-deliberated SB1 aims to transform Kentucky’s education standards. Referred to by its sponsor as the “Let teachers teach” bill, SB 1 would reform standards to align with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and would return their creation to Kentucky teachers, who know their students better than anyone else. The bill has been amended to reinstate testing for social studies in order to ensure our students receive the best possible level of civic education to prepare them for post-secondary lives.

Senate Bill 5 was introduced to protect county clerks who have inhibitions, based on their religious beliefs, regarding issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. SB 5 removes the county clerk’s name from the license and reinstates a form with a “bride” and “groom” designation. Couples could use this form or the “1st party/2nd party” form instituted by Governor Beshear following the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. This important legislation passed the Senate by a wide margin. 

We also passed SB 130, SB 136, and SB 137 out of the Senate. Senate Bill 130 concerns shielding child pornography from public view when prosecuting the pornographer. It would restrict who would have access to child pornography when used as evidence during criminal trials while keeping the proceedings open to the public. SB 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.

The last day to introduce new Senate bills is March 3. We hope to move all bills originating in the Senate over the next two weeks, and will start considering House bills after that time.