Saturday, March 1, 2003

Schools may get to shorten year

Bill linked to weather cancellations

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - School districts shut down repeatedly by snow and ice could knock five days off the school year under a bill passed Friday by the Kentucky House.

Districts that called off 10 or more days of classes could have five "disaster days" subtracted from the calendar without loss of state funding. Teachers would have to report for training, however.

That was the gist of an amendment tacked onto a Senate-passed bill to increase the stopping distance for school buses at railroad crossings. The amended bill passed 94-0 and now returns to the Senate for concurrence.

It was typical of maneuvering late in a legislative session as lawmakers try to attach substantive amendments to bills moving forward.

The House on Friday passed and sent to the Senate a raft of bills that will be subject to time constraints as the General Assembly heads into the last full week of its 30-day, off-year session.

Rep. Royce Adams, D-Dry Ridge, offered the amendment to let school districts shorten the school year. "This is one of the most disastrous winters that we've had in many years," he said.

Adams said forcing schools to go into June disrupts vacation plans. He cited a church that said its mission groups planned for June would have to be canceled.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, predicted the Senate would go along. "I don't think the five days will make that much of a difference in the education of the children," Buford said.

Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said the proposal would apply to the majority of Kentucky's school districts.

Another bill passed by the House on Friday would revise standards for electrical work at coal mines. The sponsor, Democratic Rep. Brent Yonts of Greenville, said electrocution is the second-most-common mining fatality, and there have been 40 electrocutions in Kentucky mines since 1980.

The bill, which passed 96-0, would require insulating materials on high-voltage electrical cables and breakers on all circuits and electrical equipment.

The House also passed a bill to require more warning signs against possession of guns on school property. Signs would be required at school access roads as well as at entrances to school buildings. Offenders could not be prosecuted without them.

Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said there were concerns that gun-carrying hunters could be prosecuted for unwittingly venturing onto school property. The bill passed 90-0 and moves on to the Senate.

In the Senate, a bill to reduce retirement benefits for future state and local government employees passed 25-7 with an abstention. It goes next to the House. The bill by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, would take effect with employees hired on and after July 1, 2004.

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