- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015
Student free-speech bill passes Ky. Senate

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Wading into the volatile issue of invoking God at graduations and ball games, the Kentucky Senate on Thursday passed a bill touted as providing a guide to public schools on the religious and political free-speech protections of students.

A leading supporter, Kent Ostrander, executive director of The Family Foundation, said after the Senate’s 30-4 vote that the bill would put “a stake in the ground for free speech and religious liberty” for students.

“It’s basically to allow students to have the same religious freedom that anybody else has,” he said.

The bill is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. ACLU Program Director Derek Selznick called it an “unnecessary attempt to overregulate” something protected by the First Amendment - students’ voluntary ability to pray and express religious viewpoints in a “non-disruptive manner” at school.

“By adding more government regulation into the area of students’ free speech rights, the bill will result in needless and costly litigation, particularly over students’ ability to interject religious or political views into school assignments that have nothing to do with either,” he said in a statement.

Passage in the Republican-led Senate sends the bill to the Democratic-run House for consideration. Efforts in recent years to protect religious and political speech of students have stalled in the General Assembly.


Charitable gambling bills clear Senate committee

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Two bills designed to help the state’s struggling charitable gambling industry have cleared a state Senate committee.

The first bill would let people play an electronic version of the popular paper pull tab games used by many charities. Local charities said they hope the games, played on a tablet-like device, will attract a younger set of customers to replace the shrinking number of Bingo players.

The second bill would clarify that so-called Internet sweepstakes cafes are illegal in Kentucky. The cafes let people purchase Internet access for the chance to win cash prizes while playing online casino-style games. The businesses operate outside of the state’s gambling regulations. A recent attorney general’s opinion said the cafes are illegal, but local government leaders say the law is unclear and difficult to enforce.


Bill to put transgender bathrooms in public schools fails

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Sixteen-year-old Henry Brousseau put on a coat and tie Thursday to tell a group of state senators where he wants to use the bathroom.

Brousseau was born female, but has identified as a male for the past three years and has become an advocate for other transgender students. Thursday, he spoke against a bill in the state Senate that would have banned transgender students from choosing which bathroom to use at public schools. It’s been a public issue since last year when Louisville’s Atherton High School changed its policy to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their sexual identity.

The bill failed to pass the Republican-controlled committee by one vote. But it marked what was likely to be the first time state lawmakers have had a substantive discussion about the changing social dynamics in Kentucky’s public schools. Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said the bill might not be dead because lawmakers could reconsider it before the end of session.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. C.B. Embry of Morgantown, would not have forced transgender students to use the bathroom of their biological gender. But it would have required them to use a faculty bathroom or a separate bathroom set aside for them.

“When you walk in somewhere where nobody else goes or have to leave class for extra time to walk into the basement, that opens yourself up to not being a normal kid,” said Brousseau, who attends the Louisville Collegiate, a private school in Louisville. “I don’t feel like I should have to change my life to accommodate their hatred.”

Supporters said the bill was not about hate, but about protecting the privacy of students who would be uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with a transgender student. As Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, was casting his “yes” vote he looked at Brousseau and said he did not hate him.


Kentucky Supreme Court overturns murder conviction

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A murder conviction for a man accused of burning his friend to death in a mobile home fire was overturned Thursday when Kentucky’s highest court said prosecutors committed gender discrimination with the jury.

During jury selection, prosecutors explained to the jury pool that their main witness was a woman and signaled they were most worried that female jurors would have been “hard” on its star witness, according to court’s ruling.

As a result, the defendant’s claim of gender discrimination “was presented to him on a silver platter by the commonwealth,” Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said in writing for a unanimous court.

The prosecution used seven of its nine challenges to remove women from the jury pool in the retrial of Cole Douglas Ross, who was convicted of murder and first-degree arson in the 2009 death of Keith Colston.

“The trial court could reasonably infer a discriminatory intent behind the commonwealth’s challenged strikes,” Minton wrote.

The state’s high court sent the case back to Graves County Circuit Court in far western Kentucky to a trial judge that previously denied Ross’ claims of discrimination.

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