Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

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February 16, 2011

Senate week in review

Feb. 16, 2011 —     We are nearing the halfway point of this 30-day legislative session, and an important mile-marker passed Friday — the last day to file new bills in the Senate. So we now have a clear idea of what Senate legislation we have to consider. Fairly soon, we will wrap up our work on Senate-sponsored bills and begin hearings on House proposals. Conversely, we passed several significant bills this week in the hopes the other chamber will give them its seal of approval.

    This week, the Senate passed Senate Bill 41, which would open up our primary elections to the nearly 200,000 independent voters in Kentucky. SB 41 would require voters to be registered as an independent on Dec. 31 in order to vote in a party primary the following year.

    The bill would maintain the current ban on cross-party voting — Democrats could not vote in the Republican primary and vice versa, and independents could not alternate between parties based on the office. This bill would have its greatest impact at the local level, especially in counties dominated by a single party where general elections are for all practical purposes decided in the primary.

    An education bill we approved this week, SB 56, focuses on helping students understand the virtues and values our nation was founded on by offering courses in Bible literacy. These elective social studies classes, freely chosen by students, would focus not on the Bible as a religious text, but rather how it has influenced history and the arts throughout the last two millennia. Renaissance art focused a great deal on biblical scenes, and many literary works have their roots in Biblical stories and parables.

    It is impossible to understand the turmoil in the Middle East, among other current events, without the background history told in the Bible. Giving public schools this option would help create students who are more well-rounded and informed about the world they live in.

    Two other bills we passed will not grab headlines, dealing as they do with the inner workings of government, but each have a major impact on thousands of Kentuckians. Since you will not read about them from most media outlets, I want to to report on them to you myself.

    SB 39 will require any business bidding on a state contract to be registered with the Secretary of State’s office. We currently require most businesses to do this already, but many out-of-state businesses skirt the rules without real consequence, putting Kentucky businesses at a disadvantage. In the last six months alone, nearly $3 billion in state contracts have been awarded, a figure that shows the magnitude of the potential problem.

    We also approved participation in a proposed multi-state compact governing horseracing rules and regulations. If the House goes along, SB 24 would make Kentucky the first state to join the compact, assuring our leadership position among other 'horse states' like New York, California, Maryland, and others that have their own rules for horse racing. Just as importantly, this compact will still allow the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to have final say over any new rules. The compact will act as a coordinating body, not the final authority on the rules.

    In recent years, there has been an effort at the federal level to regulate horseracing, and that threatens the ability of Kentucky horse owners, breeders, jockeys, and track operators to have a direct local say in how our signature industry is run. The main concern is that, as different states impose their own rules for which medications are legal, how parimutuel wagering is conducted, and other important aspects of how horseracing is operated; cross-state differences could put Kentucky at a competitive disadvantage. We, of course, want Kentucky racing to remain vital and well run. This multi-state compact, we believe, is a better way to accomplish that than federal oversight.

    Only 15 legislative days remain before we break for the veto period, so now is the time to make your views known. To leave a message for me, your House member, or any other legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at (800) 372-7181. People with hearing impairments may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at (808) 896-0305. You can also e-mail me directly at robin.webb@lrc.ky.gov.

    Senator Robin Webb represents Bracken, Carter, Greenup, Lewis, Mason and Robertson counties.

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sen. Webb.

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