A recap of last week in the State Capitol
FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 24, 2014) — The green sprouts pushing up through the soil in front of the State Capitol in Frankfort signal that several thousand red and yellow tulips will soon greet visitors like a dazzling welcome mat.
Amid these signs of spring, lawmakers inside the Capitol are still debating one of the big questions left over from a harsh winter: How should school districts make up for the unusually high number of days schools were closed due to snow?
Teachers, students and parents are all awaiting answers, and wondering how much of the school year will bleed into summer to make up for snow days. Many districts have missed more than 20 days of school. They now face scheduling challenges since schools are required to provide students with 1,062 hours of instruction each school year.
Both the House and Senate have stated differing preferences on dealing with the situation. A plan approved by the House would waive up to 10 school days upon a school district’s request. The Senate plan would allow districts to keep classes in session an additional 30 minutes or more each day to make up for snow days. If districts still can’t meet requirements, the commissioner of education would be allowed to waive some instructional hours for districts on a case-by-case basis.
The absence of an immediate agreement between the two chambers sets the stage for a conference committee, where members of the Senate and House will work to iron out their differences. They face time pressures since a veto recess is scheduled to start April 1 and final adjournment is slated for April 15.
Other issues that lawmakers considered last week include:
Eminent Domain. HB 31 would prevent eminent domain from being invoked to claim land for the construction of pipelines that carry natural gas liquids. Supporters say the legislation will protect landowners without preventing construction of the Bluegrass Pipeline, which is proposed to run through some Central Kentucky counties. The legislation was approved by the House and sent to the Senate for consideration.
Legislative sessions. SB 195 would let voters decide on a proposed constitutional amendment to shorten legislative sessions. Regular sessions duing even-numbered years would be reduced from 60 to 45 working days. Regular sessions in odd-numbered years would be cut from 30 working days to five. An additional 10 days could be used to extend an odd-numbered year session, or for a special session called by legislative leaders anytime during the biennium. Supporters of the legislation say shorter sessions would save money and help the General Assembly better resemble the citizen-legislature envisioned by the state’s founders. After passing the Senate this week, SB 195 was sent to the House for consideration.
Dual elections. SB 205 would specify that a political candidate can appear on a ballot twice if one of the two offices sought was either president or vice president. While the possibility of Sen. Rand Paul running for president was the impetus for the bill, it would apply to anyone running for office on a Kentucky ballot who also wants to simultaneously make a bid for the White House.
Intervention in court cases. SB 221 would allow the Senate President or House Speaker to intervene in legal proceedings if they determine that the state’s Attorney General isn’t adequately defending the State Constitution or state law. It would also allow the leaders to intervene if funds awarded in a court case were not directed to the state’s general fund.
Road plan. A two-year construction plan for road projects was approved by the House this week and is awaiting Senate action. HB 237 includes around $4.5 billion in planned state and federal road and bridge projects through fiscal year 2016.
Alcohol at state parks. HB 475 would allow by-the-drink alcohol sales at state parks and golf courses in dry counties if approved by a local option election. The legislation has been approved by both chambers and sent to the governor to be signed into law.
Citizens can keep up with these and other legislative issues through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov. In addition to providing contact info for lawmakers, the website allows citizens to read bills and track their progress. Citizens are also welcome to observe the General Assembly in person. Committee meetings are open to the public, as are the galleries in the Senate and House chambers.