Senate passes students' superintendent search bill with religious and political freedom amendment

03/24/2015 07:30 PM

FRANKFORT — Before breaking for an hourlong dinner break on Tuesday, the state Senate revived a religious freedom bill by adding it to legislation allowing students on school superintendent search committees.

The religious freedom floor amendment was one of two that prompted a rally on the Capitol steps Monday by students who worked on House Bill 236. The other floor amendment, language mandating transgender students use the restroom of their original sexes, was withdrawn before debate began.

HB 236 as amended cleared the chamber on a 27-9-1 vote. The Senate’s original student religious freedom bill, which would protect students’ rights to express religious and political views, has not received its first reading in the House since Senate Bill 71, sponsored by GOP Sen. Albert Robinson of London, crossed the Capitol Feb. 23.

Sen. Max Wise, who spoke at the Capitol rally, said in a floor speech Tuesday that students involved in the process learned more than they could glean from a textbook.

HB 236 will allow schools to place students on superintendent search committees in non-voting roles and also carries an emergency clause, making it effective once signed by Gov. Steve Beshear, if the bill reaches his desk.

The amended legislation “will also protect the free speech and the religious freedom of those students,” said Wise, R-Campbellsville.

“What we’re seeing here is a win in a compromise for them and for us to show them that we all can work together,” he said.

A handful of Democratic senators took the chamber to task for, as Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville said, “playing politics with a bill a bunch of high school students have worked really hard on.” Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, called Tuesday’s vote “a sad day.”

“The sponsor’s not opposed to this bill, but he’s trying to add on this religious liberty bill to try to teach a lesson, and you’re right, he’s taught a lesson,” Thomas said in a floor speech. “He’s taught a lesson to students in saying government does not work.”

Others took umbrage at the suggestion that senators acted with a heavy hand in amending HB 236. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said some still have issues with the superintendent search language, “but you don’t give up the good for the sake of the perfect.”

The students who worked on HB 236, he said, “are smart enough to know that there’s a process here, and it’s not always as clean as the Grammar Rock video that I watched growing up as a kid.”

“It’s not that clean,” said Thayer, R-Georgetown, noting legislation is often amended in the process. “You can’t do it in a three-minute animated video.”

The Senate also passed:

  • House Bill 59, a bill on aircraft safety that now includes an amendment on the makeup of the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport.
  • House Bill 427, or “Alicia’s Law,” legislation setting a $10 fee on felony and misdemeanor court costs to bolster the Kentucky State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
  • House Bill 315, a bill mandating children under 8 and shorter than 57 inches ride in booster seats.
Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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