Abortion, School Council Changes On Their Way To The Kentucky House

Jan 11, 2019

The first of a series of abortion-related bills unveiled this week sailed through the Kentucky Senate Friday, as lawmakers prepared for a January hiatus. Here's a look at what happened Friday.

Abortion

Senate lawmakers approved Senate Bill 50 in relatively short order on the fourth day of the 2019 session. Bill sponsor Robby Mills, a Republican from Henderson, told colleagues the legislation is meant to ensure an accurate report of the number of "chemically-induced abortions" in the state.

"There are some chemical abortions being reported, but the intention here is to be clear that the prescription of certain medications is an abortion and needs to be counted," the lawmaker explained.

Those drugs include: RU-486, cytotec, pitocin, mifeprex, misoprostol, or any other medication or combination of medications that are intended to end a pregnancy. If enacted, physicians prescribing the drugs would be required to notify the Vital Statistic Branch within 15 days. The information would then be posted on the Cabinet for Health and Family Services' website.

SB50 is one of several proposed laws that, when combined, would amount to some of the toughest abortion rules in the country.

Proponents argue the bills reflect the will of the voters in their districts, but ACLU of Kentucky advocacy director Kate Miller says they all have one goal.

"These types of bills are really about lawmakers deciding what's best for you," she says.

Among the other measures proposed this year: a ban on most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, a prohibition on abortions for reasons of race, gender, or perceived disabilities, and a bill that would automatically trigger an across-the-board ban in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned.

School Councils

Kentucky's school-based decision making councils, or SBDMs, could soon be reshaped under legislation that also moved through the state Senate.

Senate Bill 3 hit the fast track this week, clearing a committee Thursday.

The bill alters the composition of the councils, which are made up of teachers, parents, and a school administrator, by leveling the educator-parent ratio. It also takes the hiring decision for principals out of the councils' hands and places that responsibility with superintendents.

"There is a level of accountability and responsibility that we've got to restore to those we charge most to implement the most critical component of our children's development," GOP Senator Chris McDaniel insisted.

Yet critics see the measure as concentrating authority at the expense of educator involvement. Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler says stakeholders should have been afforded more input in the drafting of the bill.

"We wish more people could have been engaged in the process. We wish we could have had more people comment. We wish we could have have more voices in the room," she said.

Open Records

A Kentucky lawmaker walked back a controversial measure that would limit data that can accessed through the state's open records law.

Paducah Republican Danny Carroll told colleagues Friday that the bill — which prohibits the disclosure of personal information in public records for select categories of public employees — was not meant to stifle transparency. He said the goal was mainly to protect first-responders.  

"We can't give them all the benefits that we should, but at least surely we can take steps to protect their personal information that make it very easy for those who would seek to harm them or their families to find them," he explained in a floor speech.

Media outlets took issue with the bill, citing language that would permit agencies to withhold disciplinary records.

Carroll withdrew the bill and says he's crafting a new, streamlined version with input from the Kentucky Press Association and others.