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State legislature still has bevy of bills to tackle

By John Cheves Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON -- Forty-eight hours remain in Kentucky's 2017 General Assembly -- March 29 and 30 -- and dozens of bills stand just a few steps shy of being signed into law.

Here are some of the proposals awaiting legislators' return to the Capitol after their two-week break that began late Wednesday:

Senate Bill 1 would create a new process for school districts and the Kentucky Department of Education to intervene in low-performing schools and review classroom academic standards. The House passed it unanimously Wednesday, with two floor amendments. Next, the Senate must decide whether to concur with these relatively minor changes.

Senate Bill 14 originally would have toughened penalties for people who traffic in any quantity of heroin or fentanyl, eliminating a break the law currently has for people caught with two ounces or less. The House Judiciary Committee rewrote the bill to -- among other things -- keep lighter penalties for people who traffic in small amounts of heroin if they are addicts themselves. The bill awaits a House floor vote, after which the Senate would be asked to agree with the new version.

Senate Bill 18 would prevent injured patients who are suing their doctors for malpractice from getting access to hospitals' internal peer reviews of the medical procedures in question. It has stalled on the House floor. The sponsor, Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, this week filed the bill's language as a Senate floor amendment to House Bill 524, a bipartisan measure to protect children from sex trafficking.

The sex trafficking bill and Alvarado's amendment await a Senate floor vote. If the Senate alters the bill, then the House would have to concur.

Senate Bill 120 would rewrite parts of Kentucky penal law to make it easier for felons to get work experience while they are incarcerated and smoothly re-enter society after their release. The House Judiciary Committee made some changes to the bill Wednesday, then approved it, as did the full House. The Senate now must decide whether to concur with those changes.

House Bill 72 would let judges set expensive bonds for parties appealing a zoning lawsuit from circuit court, creating a financial burden for neighborhood groups opposing developers. The House exempted churches that file appeals at the request of Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, an attorney for churches.

The Senate eliminated that exemption but added one of its own for anyone challenging a landfill, at the request of Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, whose constituents are fighting a Scott County landfill expansion.

The House refused Wednesday to accept the Senate's changes, so differences in the bill will be negotiated by a conference committee with members from the two chambers.

House Bill 151 would permit children to attend the school nearest their home. This has led to controversy in Louisville, where a long-standing racial desegregation plan involves busing children outside of their largely segregated neighborhoods to create greater classroom diversity. The bill has stalled in the Senate Education Committee. Senate leaders say they consider it dead for now, but they have given it the necessary readings on the Senate floor to allow for one-day passage should they change their minds.

House Bill 156 is a merger of two eastern Kentucky aid bills. The original section would create a Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreation Authority to promote outdoor activity and tourism with money from the state's abandoned mine lands fund. A Senate panel on Wednesday added language from Senate Bill 215 to set aside $7.5 million a year from the state's share of coal severance money to create a Kentucky Coal Fields Endowment Authority, to diversify coal counties' economies.

The expanded HB 156 awaits a Senate vote, after which the House would have to agree with the changes.

House Bill 241 would prohibit a coach from returning a student-athlete with a concussion to play or practice without the written consent of a doctor. All it needs is a Senate floor vote.

House Bill 277 would ease anti-nepotism rules by allowing aunts, uncles, daughters-in-law and sons-in-law of school board members to be hired by a school district. All it needs is a Senate floor vote.

House Bill 281 began as an attempt to limit how much Kentucky's attorney general could pay outside lawyers to handle complex litigation targeting corporations accused of harming Kentuckians.

Last week, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, proposed additional language that also would strip the attorney general of his authority to represent the state in civil lawsuits. It was the latest thrust in a power struggle between Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and GOP legislative leaders.

Stivers' language has not formally been added to HB 281, which awaits a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said Wednesday that the bill will be addressed during the final two days of the session. If the Senate adopts the new language reducing the attorney general's power, then the House would have to concur.

House Bill 296 would reduce the expenses paid by Kentucky's workers' compensation program at the request of insurers and businesses, angering worker advocates, who say labor was left out of the bill. The bill has been stuck in the Senate Economic Development Committee since Feb. 24, in no small part because the Fraternal Order of Police is lobbying against it, arguing that it would complicate injury claims for emergency workers who are hurt on the job.

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