FRANKFORT — Lawmakers worked late into the night Wednesday passing bills before starting a nearly two-week break, but they left several major issues unresolved, including plans to curb heroin addiction and bail out the state's ailing teacher pension fund.
The Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate continued to disagree with each other's ideas on heroin and teacher pensions. They sent those bills to conference committees that will try in coming days to craft compromises.
The legislature returns March 23 and 24 to consider any vetoes by Gov. Steve Beshear and wrap up its business for the 2015 session. Among the developments Wednesday as the House and Senate tossed bills back and forth, hastily rewriting many along the way:
■ The House and Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 119, which includes language allowing school districts to waive some of their mandatory 1,062 instructional hours this year because of snow days, if the districts cannot make up the time by June 5. The bill goes to Beshear for his signature or veto.
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SB 119 would prohibit school districts from holding class on Saturday or meeting for longer than seven hours daily.
Some districts lost close to 30 days this school year because of harsh winter weather. Places like Perry County have responded by canceling their spring break and changing their last day of school from late April to early June.
House Education Chairman Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said people in the cities of Central Kentucky might not realize how difficult it is for school buses to travel "in the hollows of Eastern Kentucky and in those areas where the roads can be overwhelmed with flooding."
Several Republican lawmakers opposed the waiver, saying the legislature has grown accustomed to passing "snow day bills" that deprive children of much-needed classroom time.
"We can't keep giving these days away every single year," said Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger. "If we're going to demand that our kids go to school and that every high school diploma is the same everywhere, then we need to make sure they go to school for a full term everywhere."
■ Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, all but declared dead three big bills: a constitutional amendment that would let communities vote to temporarily increase their sales tax to fund major projects; a statewide smoking ban in public places; and a "P3" bill to allow public-private partnerships on major transportation projects, such as the proposed Ohio River bridge replacements.
■ The Senate approved and sent to Beshear House Bill 134, to make sure that Keeneland in Lexington will not get hit by higher taxes for hosting the Breeders' Cup World Championship in October. The bill would waive the state's excise tax on live parimutuel wagering for the event.
■ Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said they saw no legislative movement to freeze the state's gas tax at its current level in an effort to protect the state's eroding Road Fund. Stivers said he hopes that can be fixed in the two remaining days of the session.
■ The House attached language meant to eliminate dog-fighting to a Senate bill about bees. As amended, Senate Bill 143 would make it a Class D felony — first-degree animal cruelty — to own, breed, train or sell a four-legged animal for fighting purposes.
"Do we want Kentucky to look like the dog-fighting capital of the world? We're trying to recruit companies, large businesses, to come here and give our citizens jobs," said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, arguing for the amended bill.
■ The House gave final approval and sent to Beshear a new set of regulations for high-volume horizontal "fracking" for oil and gas.
■ The Senate gave final approval and sent to Beshear a resolution calling for the state auditor to investigate how many untested rape kits are in the custody of police and prosecutors around Kentucky.
■ Teenagers from the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team lobbied to save a measure they helped draft, House Bill 236, which would let high school students serve on panels that screen superintendent candidates. The bill has been weighed down on the Senate floor with controversial amendments by Republican senators, one on religious expression in schools and the other on which school bathrooms transgendered students may use.
The students said they unsuccessfully pleaded Wednesday to get the amendments' sponsors — Albert Robinson of London and C.B. Embry Jr. of Morgantown — to withdraw them. With those amendments attached, the bill will die in the House, the students said.
"This is not what we learned in civics class," Nicole Fielder, 18, a senior at West Jessamine High School, said at a news conference on the Senate steps. "We feel people are treating student voices as if they don't matter."