House might hear charter schools bill but unlikely to adopt Senate's immigration bill, leader says

01/11/2011 08:46 AM

The House “probably” will highlight the issue of allowing charter schools in a hearing this session but might not pass such legislation in 2011, one Democratic House leader said.

“We’ve had some discussion about charter schools in the education committee. I think it’s certainly something we need to look at,” said Democratic Rep. Tommy Thompson of Owensboro. “A lot of the folks on our side aren’t ready to give up on public education. But we certainly recognize there could be a role for charter schools.”

Thompson was elected as the majority whip last week by the House Democrats, elevating him to one of the five majority House leadership positions. He defeated Rep. John Will Stacy of West Liberty for the job, which by definition is responsible for measuring support and opposition to bills before they come up for a vote.

Thompson said on Monday’s edition of Pure Politics that the House education committee will “probably” hold a hearing on legislation that would allow charter schools to form.

Charter schools are formed by outside groups and have to adhere to some — but not all — state public education regulations.

The state Senate passed legislation to allow them last week. And a similar bill has been filed in the House by Republican Rep. Brad Montell of Shelbyville.

Thompson also answered questions about how the House might receive other bills the Republican-led Senate passed last week.

For instance, he said the House was unlikely to take up the immigration bill the Senate approved. That measure was based on the law passed last year in Arizona that allows law enforcement to check immigration status of individuals and arrest those who are here illegally.

Thompson said that approach is “more controversial” and said the House prefers legislation proposed by another House leader, Rep. Bob Damron, the House Democratic caucus chair. That measure would allow the state to use the same system federal authorities use to make sure businesses hire legal immigrants.

“I think we’re going to try to go with our bill,” Thompson said. “We think it’s the better bill.”

Thompson also talked about coming debates over what needs to happen with Medicaid, particularly with the potential expansion of managed care. Currently, the Passport Health Plan in Louisville is the only provider that contracts with the state to provide Medicaid services to the poor and disabled.

Passport came under fire last fall after a state audit revealed excessive spending on travel, entertainment and lobbying.

Another big area lawmakers will likely take up reforms to the state’s corrections system, he said. Lawmakers are awaiting the recommendations of a task force that has been helped out by the Pew Center on the States in looking at making the corrections system more efficient, less costly and more fair.

Thompson said many in the House are divided about the need for a statewide smoking ban, which Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, proposed on Friday. He said he favored leaving smoking bans up to individual cities, similar to the position of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

Thompson also discussed other legislative issues House Democrats plan to push during the session, which resumes Feb. 1:

- Ryan Alessi

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