Casino bill on hold, SB1 advances

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By The Staff

Kentucky Press Association News Bureau

While legislation to allow casino gambling has stalled in the House, a move to radically change student evaluation tests has been approved by the Senate.

Senate Bill 1, eliminating open-ended essay questions in the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System testing in favor of multiple choice tests, has gained significant attention from many sides in the General Assembly including Gov. Steve Beshear.

On March 7, the bill's sponsor, Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, brought the measure to the floor.

Despite the fact that CATS testing supporters admitted there is room for improvement in state testing, the bill passed the Senate with considerable opposition, 22-15.

It now moves on to the House of Representatives where the fate of the bill is less certain.

On March 5, Beshear announced his opposition to the bill and said eliminating the essay questions would be a step back in education.

Beshear said since the enactment of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, student assessment score have risen from near the very bottom nationally to about the middle.

"Although we've made measurable progress in student achievement over the last decade and a half, public education in Kentucky is not yet where it needs to be," Beshear said. "This bill will not help us get there."

Beshear called on supporters of KERA to oppose the bill.

"I urge everyone involved in education to redouble our efforts to ensure all Kentucky students - no matter where they live or what school they attend - are given the opportunity to learn the things that will lead to success not only at the next academic level but in their adult lives as well," Beshear said.

Williams said CATS does not properly track the achievements and progress of individual students and leaves some Kentucky students at a disadvantage when applying for college admissions against students from other states.

Williams said by using a nationally accepted multiple-choice test, educators could detect problems in student achievement earlier and have those problems addressed by teachers.

During hearings held March 6 in the Senate Education Committee, Dr. Ed Kifer of the Georgetown College Center for Advanced Study of Assessment, said the changes proposed under SB1 would shift the focus of testing from the overall performance of the school and to the individual student, making it harder to develop adequate questions.

But Williams, who also serves on the committee, said the focus of public education should be "if Johnny can cipher or can Johnny read" and not on the overall performance of the individual schools and districts.

With 40 days of the 60-day session spent, discussions on the next state budget have begun to heat up. But progress is apparently coming slowly as lawmakers continue to weigh the merits and drawbacks of increasing the tax on cigarettes.

On March 6, Beshear came forward with a plan to increase the cigarette tax by 70 cents per pack that would bring an additional $550 million to the state over the next two years.

Another proposal by the Democratic leadership in the House would raise the cigarette tax by 25 cents.

A leader in the Senate says the financial wrangling could affect the timetable to get budget passed during this regular session.

Floor Leader Sen. Dan Kelly, R- Springfield, said the House's budget proposal is usually released by this time and it could be difficult to properly prepare, revise and approve a spending measure before the session is over.

Williams said Beshear has been "consumed" with casinos and the focus of the General Assembly should turn to the budget.

Williams also called the governor's proposal for a 70-cent per pack tax increase as an "outburst" that violates a campaign promise not to raise taxes.

In other action:

• The bill that would allow the creation of casino gambling continues to wait in the House as Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, looks for enough support to get the measure out of the chamber.

Rep. Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, proposed a change in the casino legislation that would allow slot machines and electronic betting machines at Kentucky race tracks.

The measure has not been formally introduced in the House.

• A bill that would change the way permits to hunt elk are distributed has passed the House.

Rep. Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville, said residents in the counties where elk hunting is allowed should receive at least five permits for distribution.

Collins said hunters who reside in a county should receive first consideration when the permits are issued.

The remaining permits would then be randomly distributed to other hunters.

HB 579 was approved 92-0 and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

• A bill designed to help protect victims of domestic violence has cleared a Senate committee.

On March 6, SB 62 was recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, would create an address confidentiality program for domestic violence victims who are concerned their abusers could track them down.

Under the proposal, any domestic violence victim who chooses the use the program would be issued a Frankfort post office box address. All first-class mail addressed to the victim would be directed to an individual box and then forwarded to victim at no charge. The Frankfort post office box would be usable for any and all mail to the victim.

Currently, 25 states offer this program to abuse victims.

The bill could be heard in the full Senate next week.

• Two bills that would require some children to use booster seats while in a vehicle passed significant obstacles this week.

Senate Bill 120 requires children under the age of seven and between 40 and 50 inches in height be secured in a child booster seat.

The Senate measure, sponsored by Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, also contains provisions that a courtesy warning be issued until 2009 for violating the new law.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill 9-1 March 6 and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

The other bill, HB 55, was approved by the House 68-28 and moves to the Senate for consideration.

Under HB 55, a child under 8 years old and between 40 and 57 inches in height would have to use a booster seat.

The sponsor of HB 55, Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, is a long-time advocate of booster seat usage and has introduced similar legislation several times only to have the measure falter in the Senate.

Supporters of booster seat law say they are encouraged because the Senate has resisted the proposals in the past.

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