The 153rd regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly convened this week with more than 150 bills already filed. 

Five of those received passage in the Senate chambers this week.

In years past, the first week of off-year “short” sessions was spent mainly on formalities such as electing leaders and appointing committees with the real work of passing bills beginning in February. But with only 30 working days to accomplish so much, I’m proud to say the Kentucky Senate went right to work.

This was possible, in part, because the majority and minority caucuses selected their leadership in December. It allowed this chamber to begin its work immediately on the first day by naming our committee chairs, vice chairs and committee members.

Elected to head the Senate Democrats leadership team was Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville as the new Minority Floor Leader. Sen. Dennis Parrett of Elizabethtown will remain as Minority Whip. I am proud to say I was elected as Minority Caucus Chair. I served as caucus chair previously from 2003 to 2015.

By the third day of the session, the first bill of the session was passed out of the chamber.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 5, is a proposed amendment to the Kentucky Constitution to move the elections statewide constitutional offices to even-numbered years.

SB 5, which passed 31-4, would save about $15 million in taxpayer money by consolidating the dates elections are held. As it stands now, Kentucky has three statewide elections each four-year cycle. Two of those elections follow the national cycle of congressional and presidential races in even years. Tucked between those are the races for statewide constitutional offices. The supporters also said the change would triple voter turnout in down-ballot races and simplify the election system by aligning Kentucky’s election cycle with presidential elections.

Even if the General Assembly passed SB 5 this session, the proposed constitutional amendment would not be placed on the ballot to be decided upon by the people until 2020.

On Friday, we passed four bills:

•SB 50, which passed 30-6, would require that the dispensing of certain prescriptions be reported to Vital Statistics. The report on these drugs, which can be used to induce abortion, would be made available on the cabinet’s website. With so many important health issues facing Kentuckians, I do not understand why we want to use our scarce resources in this manner. These drugs are used for many procedures other than abortion. They are used to dilate a woman’s cervix to insert an IUD to prevent pregnancy; they are used to facilitate a miscarriage, and they are used to accelerate childbirth. This measure, which I opposed, is precedent set in the United States Constitution.

•SB 3 changes the makeup of school-based decision making councils (SBDMs) and is an attempt to weaken their authority. The bill shifts the power to select school principals from the SBDM to the superintendent. The bill passed 23 to 13 and I voted no.

This is a regressive piece of legislation. Why would we intentionally take steps backwards? When we passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) in the nineties, Kentucky was ranked 49th in the nation in education as compared to today’s ranking in themed- twenties. Giving teachers and parents more voice is important to the success of our schools. This measure Weakens the voices of our school community – our parents and teachers. Furthermore, I think we should leave the hiring of principals with that school’s SBDM. In rural communities, that added duty for superintendents gives the head of the school too much authority. In larger districts such as Jefferson and Fayette counties, the superintendent cannot know the needs of every school well enough that he or she should be solely responsible for selecting the principals. The SBDMs are much better suited for that duty. The SBDMs have served us well for the last 30 years, why change what is working – or, if it isn’t broke, why fix it?

• SB 8, the Tribunal bill, deals with the termination of a teacher’s contract, passed 23-13. SB 8 removes the requirement that a teacher receive a written statement prior to being terminated for “inefficiency, incompetency, or neglect of duty.” It also replaces the layperson upon appeal with an attorney and requires the attorney to serve as hearing officer and chair of the tribunal. I voted no because the termination of a teacher should have more flexibility before a final judgment call is made.

• Senate Bill 4 requires candidates to file their expense reports electronically.  I supported this measure because it is more efficient and transparent in the reporting of election finance reports. There was some opposition because of the spotty Internet services in the more rural areas of the state. The bill passed 34 to 2.

As we head into a break, your input is needed and appreciated. Kentuckians have numerous ways to follow legislative action throughout the session, including seeing legislative action in person in the State Capitol’s legislative chambers and committee meeting rooms when the second part of the session begins on Feb. 5.

Bill summaries, amendments and resolutions, in addition to the next day’s committee-meeting schedule and agendas, are updated daily on the Kentucky Legislature’s home page at www.lrc.ky.gov.

People who want to give lawmakers feedback on issues under consideration can call the Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181. Citizens with hearing impairments can use the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305. A taped message containing information on the daily schedule for legislative committee meetings is available by calling the Legislative Calendar Line at (800) 633-9650. The status of bills is available at 866-840-2835.

Or email me directly at johnnyray.turner@lrc.y.gov.

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