David Williams, Rick Rand don't agree on much regarding competing 2011 agendas

01/12/2011 05:57 PM

LOUISVILLE — When they return to work in February, House Democrats and Senate Republicans will start with few intersections of their respective agendas, top-ranking lawmakers said during Wednesday’s meeting of the Louisville Forum.

Republican Senate President David Williams and Rep. Rick Rand, a Bedford Democrat who chairs the House budget committee, laid out the top priorities the majorities in the two chambers would be pushing. And they responded to audience questions about education issues, tax policy and immigration that underscored the gulf between the parties.

The Senate Republicans spent the first four working days of the session last week passing 12 bills that make up their agenda, including legislation on immigration, charter schools and a process to reform the tax code.

Rand, the House budget chairman, said when the session resumes Feb. 1, the House will focus on:

  • enacting corrections system reforms that are being hammered out by a bipartisan commission
  • expanding managed care of Medicaid as a cost savings
  • addressing immigration by requiring the state to use the E-verify system to make sure businesses hire legal immigrants
  • raising the school drop out age from 16 to 18, which also is a priority of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

When asked why raising the drop out age was an important issue for the General Assembly to take up, Rand said that 16-year-olds don’t understand the consequences of dropping out of high school.

But Williams said the bill had little chance to be passed in the Senate because it doesn’t deal with helping prepare students. Until those issues are addressed in the bill, the Senate would not accept it.

On the issue of immigration, Williams said Kentucky will become a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants if Kentucky does not pass a tough immigration law because other states are passing laws similar to Arizona.

Williams also criticized Democrats for their approach because he said it would penalize businesses instead of illegal aliens.

In response, Rand said he doubts Kentucky will ever become a “sanctuary state” and that the House would prefer to move slowly on the issue.

Rand said the type of strict immigration law the Senate Republicans passed isn’t needed because Kentucky doesn’t have the same immigration issues as Arizona, which borders Mexico.

On the issue of charter schools, Rand said he was worried about the costs of the charter schools bill as well as the cost of allowing students to attend the schools closest to their homes. He said such “attendance zones” in impoverished areas might only exacerbate problems.

The Senate’s education bill would have “tough sledding” in the House, Rand said.

Rand also said he believe the bill takes control away from local school boards, specifically the Jefferson County Public School board.

Williams said the legislation allows for local control when it comes to setting attendance boundaries.

Williams also said that the majority of schools in impoverished areas are the schools that are failing and need help, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be attended by children in the school’s neighborhood.

The two also disagreed over Williams’ suggested approach to setting up a group of experts to re-write the state’s tax code. House leaders previously said they were unhappy that legislators wouldn’t have a say on the task force until they would be asked to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on the plan the task force comes up with.

Rand also said the General Assembly needs to take up tax code directly and “be courageous,” while Williams said the legislature was too politicized to be able to re-write the state’s tax code itself.

-Video produced and reporting by Kenny Colston

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