The Kentucky General Assembly sent Gov. Matt Bevin several bills to consider Wednesday, including one that would make significant changes in public education and another that would make it easier for felons to get work experience while incarcerated.
Bevin is expected to sign both of those bills into law but he has the right to veto them. If he issues a veto after Thursday, lawmakers would not have the authority to override it. This year’s law-making session must end by midnight Thursday.
The Senate held no debate as it voted on the bills.
Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senate Education Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, is a wide-ranging education bill that would establish a new process for the state to intervene in low-performing schools and would repeal the influence of the controversial Common Core education standards in classrooms and statewide tests.
Under SB 1, revisions would be made to the Kentucky academic standards in 2017-18 and every six years after that. Teams of educators from public schools and higher education would recommend changes, with suggestions from citizens.
Senate Bill 120, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, would make it easier for felons to re-enter society after their release from prison and gain work experience as they serve their sentences.
Other parts of the bill would let some low-level felons hold jobs while incarcerated, either through companies invited to operate inside prisons or work-release programs at local jails; reduce the time that compliant offenders serve on probation or parole; prevent defendants from being jailed because they are unable to pay court costs; and create a pilot project similar to drug court to supervise newly released felons with addictions.
The bill emerged from a special panel Bevin set up last year to look at the state’s criminal justice system. It was headed by Justice Secretary John Tilley.
Late Wednesday, the General Assembly also sent Bevin a bill that would require the Kentucky Department of Education to create regulations that establish an elective social studies course on Bible literacy. The Senate approved House Bill 128 on a 34-4 vote.
Meanwhile, the House and Senate reached an impasse Wednesday on two bills and formed a conference committee for each one in an attempt to iron out differences between the two chambers.
House Bill 72, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, would let judges set expensive bonds for parties appealing a zoning lawsuit from circuit court, potentially creating a financial burden for neighborhood groups opposing developers.
The House exempted churches that file appeals at the request of Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, an attorney for churches. The Senate eliminated that exemption but added one of its own for anyone challenging a landfill, at the request of Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, whose constituents are fighting a Scott County landfill expansion.
Senate Bill 31, sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, deals with funding for police and firefighters foundation programs.
Thayer said Thursday’s work agenda will include consideration of a few more bills and Senate confirmation of 74 appointments made by the governor.
The Senate plodded through a long list of legislation throughout the day, taking frequent breaks to let the Republican caucus discuss remaining bills behind closed doors.
Tired of waiting on one bill that would provide funding for the Yum! Center in Louisville, the House tacked the language of that bill onto an existing Senate bill, ensuring the Senate would have to take action on it in some form.
“That bill is extremely important to those of us in the House,” said House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown. “I’m really at a loss for the slow pace that the Senate has taken on that bill.”
Hoover remained hopeful about several other bills in the Senate, saying the General Assembly still had “28 hours” left.
One of those bills, House Bill 296, would overhaul the state’s workers’ compensation law. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce supports the bill, but the state’s police and firefighter unions have opposed a portion of the bill that could cut off payments for certain disabilities after 15 years.
“I think they’re making some changes that appear, to us at least, to be very good changes,” Hoover said.