Kentucky General Assembly reconvened for legislative session

Story by Matthew Parks, Staff writer

The 2017 Kentucky General Assembly reconvened on Feb. 7 to continue the year’s legislative session which will conclude March 30.

The legislature passed seven bills during their first five days in January, but political experts expect the rapidity to slow down to a normal working pace.

However, since Republicans hold a supermajority in the House and the Senate, they are expected to be able to pass most of their agenda with little opposition.

The most pressing issue that will be discussed is public education – specifically, bringing charter schools to Kentucky. Currently, there are only seven states that do not allow charter schools, including Kentucky, but that is likely to change during the coming weeks.

The assembly schedule for the next month indicates that the process of deciding on the shape of Kentucky’s charter school system will likely take place over several weeks, and could include other provisions, which would give the governor and other political figures more power over educational institutions.

Senate Bill 1, for instance, proposes massive changes to all of Kentucky’s public schools and would give Gov. Matt Bevin the ability to remove members from any university board if he deems the body cannot reach consensus toward achieving the school’s missions.

REAL ID will likely be one of the major discussion points. Bevin’s veto of the previous REAL ID legislation means that Kentucky-issued driver’s licenses will no longer be valid methods of identification for domestic air travel, entering military bases or entering nuclear facilities.

According to the Kentucky Legislative Research Committee, if legislation does not pass during this general assembly session to bring Kentucky up to standard with REAL ID laws, military bases and nuclear facilities will stop accepting Kentucky identification cards in early summer. They will also stop being accepted for domestic flights beginning in January 2018.

In order to comply with the law, Kentucky must begin issuing driver’s licenses through the state transportation cabinet rather than through individual county clerks.

According to a public release from the Kentucky Legislative Research Committee, gun control will also be a focus of legislation.

Two bills are on the floor issued from both sides of the chamber:

Senate Bill 7, filed by Sen. Albert Robinson (R), would allow Kentuckians to carry a concealed weapon without needing a permit, as long as they are not prohibited from doing so by another law (convicted felons, etc.), eliminating the currently required training course and license.

House Bill 101, filed by Rep. Darryl Owens (D), would allow local governments to create their own gun control legislation, an option which is currently prohibited by state law, though this bill is unlikely to pass due to the Republican supermajority in both chambers.

The seven bills already passed in January include:

  • House Bill 1 – This bill made Kentucky a right-to-work state by eliminating mandatory membership or payment of dues to labor unions.
  • Senate Bill 3 – This bill requires that the retirement benefits of current and former general assembly members are made public. Disclosure includes the member’s name and monthly allowances.
  • House Bill 2 – This bill requires women who are seeking an abortion to have an obstetric ultrasound of her baby explained to her by a healthcare provider before she is able to give informed consent for an abortion.
  • Senate Bill 5 – This bill prohibits abortions at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but it does not apply in cases where an abortion is required to save the life of or prevent serious risk of harm to the mother.
  • House Bill 3 – This bill repealed Kentucky’s prevailing wage law that dictated the hourly wages for construction workers hired for public works projects.
  • Senate Bill 6 – This bill requires employees to request membership to a labor union in writing before they can be enrolled.
  • Senate Bill 12 – This bill abolished the current board of trustees at the University of Louisville and created new qualifications and conditions of membership for the new board.