Legislative Update – 3/17/17

Early mornings turned to late nights and spirited debate echoed through the House and Senate chambers as we closed in on the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session in Frankfort. A flurry of bills were sent to Governor Matt Bevin’s desk this week, highlighted by measures to empower our Kentucky teachers and create better learning environments for our Kentucky students.

One of our top priorities in the Senate this session was Senate Bill (SB) 1, which is designed to “let teachers teach” by mirroring the Federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” to foster state and local decision making by our valued educators. The House passed SB 1 unanimously this week with a few minor changes. The Senate plans to accept those changes and send SB 1 to Governor Bevin to be signed into law. Senate Bill 1 will bring sweeping changes to reform education in our Commonwealth, and we are confident those changes will improve our schools for many years to come.

Another education bill that was sent to the Governor’s desk this week was House Bill (HB) 520, which authorizes the establishment of charter schools in Kentucky. Passage of a charter schools bill has been a priority in the Senate for the past several sessions, and we were pleased to finally see its passage with help from our colleagues in the new House Majority.

With the passage of HB 520, Kentucky became the 44th state in the U.S. to pass a bill that permits school choice. None of the previous 43 states that have enacted charter school legislation have repealed it, which gives added confidence that this was the right move for Kentucky. In order for a charter school to be established, it first must be authorized by a local school board.

Complementing the HB 520, we also sent HB 471 to Governor Bevin, which is the funding mechanism for charter schools. It is important to note that HB 471 has been crafted to support, not burden school district funding systems. Based on projected enrollment, a school district would send its request for funding to the Kentucky Department of Education. That district would include charter school enrollment figures as well.  A “base” guarantee of funding that is sent to a school district would include adjustments for percentages of students who are at-risk, special education, limited English proficient, home/hospital, plus transportation costs.  The formula also requires local fair share by each school district based on taxable property there.

We value our public schools, our teachers, and our students. It is important to realize that charter schools were not designed to take anything away from our existing system but to provide new opportunities for our students at struggling schools.

Several other important bills moved quickly though the legislative process this week and were delivered to the Governor for his signature:
·         Senate Bill 11 lifts Kentucky’s nuclear moratorium to expand our state’s energy portfolio;
·         Senate Bill 75 updates the state’s outdated campaign contribution laws that have previously encouraged “dark money” and discouraged free speech;
·         Senate Bill 89 removes barriers in health care plans to allow patients to access smoking cessation treatments;
·         Senate Bill 91, also known as “Tim’s Law,” is aimed at helping families of those with severe mental illness ensure that individual receives proper outpatient treatment;
·         Senate Bill 107, setting up a due process to remove members from dysfunctional or non-compliant state boards, such as university boards;
·         Senate Bill 120, comprehensive justice reform that also provides methods for reentry and employment access;
·         Senate Bill 136, which offers in-state tuition for all active members of the Kentucky National Guard whether or not they are official residents;
·         Senate Bill 159, requiring all public high school students to pass a civics test in order to receive a regular diploma;
·         Senate Bill 195, aligning the juvenile criminal record expungement process with that of last year’s House Bill 40, to allow for expungement of certain juvenile crimes;
·         And Senate Bill 236, allowing for more thorough background checks on potential child care providers.

Wednesday, March 15, marked Day 28 of the 2017 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. The Senate is adjourned until March 29 and this brief period of time is known as the “veto period,” during which Governor Bevin can veto any legislation that comes to his desk. When we return on March 29, however, the General Assembly has the power to override the Governor’s vetoes, as long as the legislation was passed before the beginning of the veto period.

We will still likely pass a few more bills on March 29 and 30, so I encourage you to continue watching the movement of legislation. It is an honor to serve you in Frankfort, and I look forward to continue to work on your behalf in the General Assembly.