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Controversial education, crime bills advance during Friday's full agenda

LRC Public Information

A constitutional amendment dealing with nonpublic schools will head straight to the ballot in November, but other hotly-debated measures are landing, or appear headed for, the governor's desk after an eventful Friday.

Both chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly moved forward on controversial education-related bills Friday.

The House put the newly-revised Senate Bill 6 — a now wide-ranging ban on funding for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs at public colleges — on the floor less than 24 hours after passing the tougher version of the bill in committee.

While supporters argue DEI programs have succumbed to mission creep and have insulated themselves from criticism, opponents of the bill worry the reaction against DEI represents a pendulum swing in the opposite direction.

Democratic Rep. Sarah Stalker asked “who’s next?”

"This bill already has so many tentacles about donors and how they can give their money, and how the universities can distribute that based off of scholarships, the vendors that universities can choose to use," she said. "You are getting into very dangerous territory alone within the universities, but it has the ability to spread out."

The House passed the measure on a 68-18 vote just as the Senate was debating a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would allow Kentucky voters to grant the legislature the authority to funnel public dollars into nonpublic education.

Sen. Stephen West challenged the argument that the amendment is anti-public education.

"We stand committed to the public education system," West said, reminding the audience of the amounts the General Assembly is spending to bolster public education. "But this is just an opportunity to try something different, and all the bill does is it lets the people decide."

Critics said putting more funds into guaranteed teacher raises and universal pre-k, as the governor has campaigned for, would do more to bolster education. The amendment gained enough support to make it on the ballot in November.

Passage of the education measures was closely followed by floor debate and approval of an omnibus anti-crime bill labeled the "Safer Kentucky Act."

The more-than-70 page bill cleared the Kentucky Senate, despite some mixed feelings on both sides of the aisle over many of its provisions.

House Bill 5 has been characterized by supporters as a bill that gets tough on crime, adding a new three-strikes provision and stiffening penalties. Others view the mix of reforms as reactionary, costly, and lacking when it comes to Kentucky-specific crime data.

"It's time to stop coddling criminals. Enough is enough," said Republican Sen. Phillip Wheeler. "I mean, how much are decent, hardworking people really supposed to take in this society?"

"Don't get me wrong, we should hold people accountable. If you commit the crime, you should pay and do the time, but we've got to rehabilitate, and I think overincarceration without the other process means we're going have more victims," Sen. David Yates, a Democrat from Louisville.

One section that’s drawn a lot of attention would make it easier for local governments to clear out non-official homeless encampments.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, who joined Democrats in voting against the bill, said it doesn’t offer any solutions to the underlying problems.

"No part of this bill addresses the root causes of homelessness. No part of it," he said.

Many expressed support for some provisions, saying the state does need to take a more active role in tackling crime, but bristled at the broad nature of the bill.

Despite those misgivings, however, the bill went on to advance through the Senate and on to the governor’s desk.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.