Issues which have failed to gain much traction in the past are resurfacing as lawmakers return to Frankfort for the 2012 session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Casinos, charter schools and congressional lines created chatter at the statehouse Tuesday.
On opening day of the legislative session KARE, Kentuckians Advocating Reform in Education, began airing a 30 second television ad statewide touting the benefits of charter schools.
“Kentucky's schools are failing, but there is a better way,” the voice in the ad said. “Public charter schools offer innovation and accountability."
The Republican controlled Senate has approved charter school legislation twice, but the idea has died both times in the Democrat dominated House. “A lot of Democrats across the country believe that charter schools are one of the answers,” Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville said of efforts to improve failing schools.
Williams noted that President Obama and his education secretary support the concept. 41 states allow public charter schools, where educators are unchained from many regulations.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he is “open to listening.” But, he has “reservations because we can't allow our public schools to be impacted negatively."
Meanwhile, the casino bill Governor Beshear has promised, to force a public vote on the issue, hasn’t surfaced yet. Republican Senator Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who is in talks with Beshear, says he “may” or “may not” carry the administration’s legislation.
“It's a very difficult issue,” Thayer said. “I think it's going to be very difficult to get the 23 votes in the Senate and 60 votes in the House." Thayer says his next step is to talk with the Republican caucus in the Senate.
Senate President, David Williams, says Thayer is acting on his own and not on behalf of the caucus. Williams is opposed to allowing casinos and says he’s not convinced gambling revenue would ever solve Kentucky’s problems.
Thayer says he told the governor nine casino locations are too many. Thayer says horse tracks need to be guaranteed some licenses, but they can’t get exclusivity.
"Some how the needle is going to have to be threaded to come up with a proposal that everybody can live with,” said Thayer of the effort to put the issue on the ballot.
Also on opening day, both chambers filed shell bills for redistricting. Lawmakers must redraw lines for state House and Senate districts, judicial districts and the state’s six congressional districts. Lawmakers from both chambers admit it is the first tough issue and the congressional portion of the job will be the biggest challenge.
"How do you keep politics out of government, you don't,” said Stumbo.