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Legislative Briefs: School calendar bill heads to governor; shock probation rules tightened

A bill that would give school districts more leeway in setting school calendars is on its way to the governor’s desk after passing the Kentucky House Wednesday.

Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, would allow school districts to operate on a “variable student instructional year” that would offer the same 1,062 or more hours of instructional time that’s required for students under current rules.

Districts that opt for the variable instructional year wouldn’t have to meet the state’s 170-day requirement for the school year, as long as students receive the number of hours’ worth of instruction that are proportionately equivalent to 170 school days.

House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, (left) discusses a ruling on a bill with House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, in the House. (LRC Public Information Photo)

Districts could begin using the variable student instructional year with local board approval beginning with the 2018-2019 school year if their first day of instruction is on or after the Monday closest to Aug. 26.

Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, who explained the bill before the House vote, said the variable option is “completely voluntary” and is designed to give school districts more flexibility.

“When we look at schools, after testing, many days have become track-and-field and band field trip days,” said Linder. “Many schools go these days just to get those days in. This bill will allow them (if they start on the Monday closest to Aug. 26) to use this and only use the 1,062 hours.”

House Minority Whip Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, was concerned that the bill limits school days to seven hours.

“If districts don’t elect to extend their school day somehow, either at the beginning or the end of the day, then it would be very difficult for school districts to start the 26th of August and still not be going into June,” said Stone.

The bill also would allow for creation of school district calendar committee (comprised of a school principal, office administrator, a school board member, parents of students in the district and a few others) that would recommend school calendar options to the local board. And it would require that the media be notified of school board meeting regarding the school calendar at least 24 hours in advance.

SB 50 passed the House by a vote of 77-18. It was approved by the Senate on a 33-1 vote on Feb. 9.

Legislature tightening rules on shock probation

People convicted of second degree manslaughter while driving drunk would no longer be eligible for shock probation, according to a bill that now has passed both chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Currently, judges are able to use their own discretion in deciding whether to shorten an offender’s sentence in favor of probation.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said one of her constituents was dismayed when the person convicted of killing the constituent’s daughter in a drunk driving accident served only 63 days of a five-year sentence after being released on shock probation.

“Kentucky is one of only six states that allows shock probation in cases like these,” Raque Adams said. “This bill clearly points out that a conviction and sentence that has been imposed shall stand.”

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, opposed the measure, noting that it takes away judicial discretion for a practice that is rarely used.

House Bill 222, which was sponsored by Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, passed the Senate 33-4 and now goes to the Governor for his signature.

Measure to keep autopsy photos private going to Bevin

Kentucky families will have an easier time keeping autopsy photos of their loved ones private thanks to new legislation passed by the state’s General Assembly.

House Bill 67, which passed the Senate 36-1 after previously clearing the House of Representatives 94-0, provides additional protections against the release of autopsy photographs, videos and other images to non-essential outlets such as the news media and Internet bloggers. The measure was prompted by the case of a young Kentucky boy who was killed in an accident and whose parents were unsuccessful in halting the release of his autopsy photos to media outlets.

“If you Google his name today, you can still find those photos online,” said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, who spoke in favor of the bill. Westerfield also noted that the measure does not affect the release of autopsy reports, including images, to law enforcement officials or others who typically are entitled to receive that information.

The new law, which now goes to the Governor for his signature, will be designated as Jack’s Law in honor of the child whose death inspired it.

“Nothing can bring Jackson back,” said Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, in whose district the family lives, “but this can keep this situation from occurring with another grieving family.”

Legislature Grants Final Approval to Incentives for Amazon

The Kentucky Senate gave final passage to a bill that will incentivize future growth of e-commerce operations in Kentucky. In January, Amazon announced that it is bringing a $1.5 billion hub to Northern Kentucky, resulting in an immediate 2,700 jobs, and more expected in the future.

As part of the package to lure the company to Kentucky, the Legislature has now approved a $1 million annual aviation fuel tax incentive, which will solidify the current investment and encourage future growth.

“I applaud today’s action by the Senate to prioritize House Bill 368,” said Rep. Diane St. Onge, the primary bill sponsor. “In order for Kentucky to be at the forefront of e-commerce, it is imperative that we are forward thinking and take the initiative to anticipate the ever-evolving model of today’s businesses.”

In a strong message that Kentucky is open for business, the Senate took swift action to cement the initial House action taken at the end of February. At the time, St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, stressed the importance of the need to be aggressive to attract the best jobs in the country.

“Kentucky is not only competing with our neighboring states, but we are competing in a global economy, and we must have this precise type of incentive to offer companies to invest in the state,” said St. Onge. “As the latest investment by Amazon proves, pro-business legislation is key to attracting enormous investments that will provide thousands of jobs and economic stability for the state.”

In order to receive the credit, House Bill 368 will require certificated air carriers to spend in excess of $1 million in sales and use tax on the purchase of aircraft fuel, including jet fuel, in Kentucky. This is similar to incentives that have been offered since the late 1990s to companies such as UPS, and will be available to every certificated air carrier operating in the state.

The bill now heads to the Governor, where it is expected to be signed into law.

From LRC Public Information

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