Senate Republicans unveiled their 13 “priority” bills Wednesday for the 2016 General Assembly, including a measure they highlighted as Senate Bill 1 that would eliminate the controversial Common Core education standards for Kentucky schools.
The other bills range from more transparency in public pension programs to prohibiting the sale of fetal tissue.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said the bills mark “a conservative agenda” and expressed hope that work on them will start soon.
The bills’ chances are excellent in the Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 27 to 11. They face a tougher road in the House, where Democrats hold a 50-46 advantage.
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The biggest surprise in the Senate’s priority bills was SB 1, which would set up a new review structure for state education standards and student testing.
Gov. Matt Bevin said in his successful campaign last year that he favors repealing the federal education standards known as Common Core.
The national standards are the basis for Kentucky’s standards, which define what Kentucky students are expected to learn at each grade level in order to graduate ready for college and careers. How the standards are taught — the methods and materials used — are decided by local schools.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Common Core should be eliminated because “we want to get back to controlling our standards.” He called it “a well thought-out bill.”
The bill also would set standards and criteria for teacher evaluations but would not tie teacher pay to evaluations, Stivers said.
Senate Education Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said SB 1 is “phase two” of 2009 legislation pushed by the Republican-led Senate, which aimed to produce college and career-ready graduates.
The Common Core standards were developed in 2009 by teachers, administrators and education experts working with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. There was concern that U.S. students were lagging behind students in other countries.
The standards came under heavy criticism after President Obama’s education department endorsed them and began tying some federal dollars to a state’s adoption of them.
Wilson said he did not know how much his bill would cost the state but he thinks removing some standards will save the state money. He said the measure will not make it harder for the state to get federal funding.
He also said it will not remove site-based school councils, which determine a school’s curriculum, but will cut down on “the heavy teaching” of academic tests.
The bill basically sets up a structure to review the state’s academic standards and testing systems once every six years, said Wilson.
Both Wilson and Stivers said the bill has nothing to do with the teaching of controversial subjects such as evolution or creationism.
Wilson’s counterpart in the House, Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, could not be reached for comment. Neither could anyone with the Kentucky Education Association.
Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the department received the bill Wednesday afternoon and was still reviewing it.
A spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said he has not had time to review the Senate “priority” bills.
The other bills and their Republican sponsors are:
▪ SB 2 (Sen. Joe Bowen) would make the state’s public pension systems more transparent in their transactions, more accountable in how they contract with third parties for services, and ensure that their governing boards have the investment experience necessary to lead the organizations.
Stivers said the bill would also apply to the pension system for state legislators but would not require an audit of any pension system.
He added that he expects the state budget bill to address funding for the state’s ailing pension systems.
Democratic leaders in the House already have designated as their House Bill 1 a measure to allow bonding of $3.3 billion to shore up the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement
▪ SB 3 (Sen. Robert Stivers) would allow workers to take jobs in unionized workplaces without paying union dues as a condition of employment.
▪ SB 4 (Sen. Julie Raque Adams) would require those seeking an abortion to have a face-to-face, in-person counseling session with a physician 24 hours prior to the procedure.
▪ SB 5 (Sen. Steve West) would codify Bevin’s executive order to have county clerks’ signatures removed from marriage licenses.
Stivers said more provisions may be added to the bill, which stems from the decision last year of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to refuse to sign marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages are legal.
▪ SB 6 (Sen. Ralph Alvarado) would require medical malpractice cases to be reviewed on their merit by an independent panel before they can be filed in court in an attempt to curb frivolous lawsuits.
▪ SB 7 (Sen. Max Wise) would prohibit any non-Medicaid state tax dollars from funding the organization Planned Parenthood, a national group which conducts abortions and recently was accused of selling fetal organs for profit.
▪ SB 8 (Sen. John Schickel) would require the state court system to balance population and caseloads throughout the state on the same schedule as legislative redistricting.
While legislative redistricting is required every 10 years, it has been several decades since redistricting occurred in the state’s courts system. This bill would require a constitutional amendment approved by Kentucky voters.
▪ SB 9 (Sen. Wil Schroder) would repeal the “prevailing wage” requirement on school construction to cut costs from publicly funded school construction.
▪ SB 10 (Sen. Chris McDaniel) would move statewide elections to even-numbered years in hopes of generating greater voter turnout.
Research has proven that hundreds of thousands of additional Kentucky voters show up to the polls during years when a federal election is held, Stivers said.
He noted that this measure would not extend the term of the current governor, and would save the state about $20 million over each election cycle. This also is a constitutional amendment.
▪ SB 15 (Sen. Albert Robinson) would reinforce religious and political freedoms of expression for students, staff and schools.
▪ SB 20 (Sen. Ralph Alvarado) would allow health providers such as hospitals, doctors and clinics to appeal a determination by a Managed Care Organization that a service is either not covered or is covered at a lower payment level. Currently, providers can only appeal to the MCO and not to the Department of Medicaid Services.
▪ SB 25 (Sen. Max Wise) would prohibit the sale of fetal tissue.