, Corbin, KY

February 14, 2014

Political games being played in Senate

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

Two bills scheduled for action in the Senate Thursday demonstrate the political and strategic sides of legislating.

The Republican controlled Senate for the second consecutive day passed over a bill which would authorize medical review panels whose findings would be admissible in malpractice suits.

It passed one best known for a provision to protect the privacy of student data stored on the internet Cloud server but which might undermine the adopted Common Core science standards in Kentucky schools.

Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, would bar data storage companies from selling or using for marketing any data of Kentucky students stored on their servers, a provision enjoying wide support. But the second section would allow local school councils to substitute academic standards “that exceed” the Common Core standards.

Republicans in the General Assembly have generally opposed implementation of the national standards, and they’ve specifically objected to the science standards which include sections on “natural selection” or evolution and on climate science.

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, asked Higdon if the term “exceed” might include additional standards to the Common Core standard. Higdon responded that his intent was to allow “more rigor” in academic study.

Neal said the term might be open to other interpretation – he never asked if it might be a way to circumnavigate the science standards. Higdon deferred to Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, the chairman of the Education Committee.

“All we’re saying is the (Common Core) standards are the floor and you may go beyond that,” Wilson answered. “It doesn’t mean additions or changes to any standards.”

That seemed to satisfy Neal and the measure passed 37-0.

But Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, was asked by reporters afterward if SB 89 might allow a local school council to choose to teach creationism in a science course.

“I think they could teach either (creationism or natural selection) if a local school board adopted it,” Stivers said.

Neal didn’t seem surprised when told of Stivers’ comments.

“I knew that’s what this was about,” Neal said. “They found an elephant for this tick to ride on.”

The bill goes to the Democratic controlled House where it almost certainly will be assigned to the Education Committee chaired by Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort. Graham supports the Common Core standards.

Senate Bill 119, sponsored by Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, isn’t new. She sponsored a similar measure last year which passed the Senate but died in the House.

Health care providers claim the medical review panels would cut down on “frivolous” malpractice suits that are prompting doctors to leave the state. But advocates, trial lawyers, and generally Democrats counter that it undercuts the right to trial by jury. (Findings of the panel would not be final and a victim could still sue, but the panel’s findings would be admissible as evidence to the jury.)

Last year during debate, Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, an attorney argued against passing the measure, displaying several enlarged and sometimes gruesome photographs of neglected nursing home patients. He said Thursday he will make similar arguments with similar photographs when Denton’s bill is brought to the floor this time.

But the bill was passed over Thursday, left in the orders of the day for future consideration. Stivers said it was simply “a matter of timing.”

But when Denton was asked why her bill continues to be passed over she said, “Who wants to look at a lot of pictures of naked people? You better be prepared to stay a while when the bill does come up.”

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at