- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 29, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky lawmakers voted Wednesday to gradually repeal Common Core educational standards and give ex-prisoners a better chance to land jobs as they started a two-day wrap-up session to put the finishing touches on a Republican-dominated agenda.

The GOP-led House and Senate worked through remaining bills after returning from a long break to allow Gov. Matt Bevin to sign or veto legislation. This year’s session ends Thursday.

The Senate completed work Wednesday on key measures aimed at revamping education policy and helping ex-inmates onto the path of leading productive lives in the workforce.

Senators also gave final approval to legislation aimed at student athlete safety. The measure would require public school coaches to have a doctor’s written consent before allowing a student athlete diagnosed with a concussion to play or practice. Lawmakers also took another step toward helping the Louisville Arena Authority pay off debt for the Yum Center. And they gave final approval to a bill that would require the state Board of Education to set guidelines governing Bible literacy courses in public schools.

The Senate sent the wide-ranging education bill to Bevin on a 37-0 vote. The bill was a top priority for Senate Republicans, and its final passage culminated a multi-year effort by Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Wilson to shift more control to local school districts.

“It coherently aligns our K-through-12 academic standards, our state assessments and school accountability that will significantly increase the post-secondary readiness of our Kentucky graduates,” said Wilson, R-Bowling Green. “And it also significantly increases local decision making while it decreases bureaucratic burdens on educators.”

The Senate action moved the state closer toward a gradual repeal of Common Core standards. Kentucky was the first state in the country to adopt the Common Core standards, a movement started by the National Governors Association that became a Republican punching bag after its embrace by the Obama administration.

Wilson has said the influence of Common Core in state classroom academic standards and statewide tests would not be repealed until new standards are rolled out.

Under the bill, revisions would be made to Kentucky’s academic standards every six years. Teams of educators from public schools and higher education would recommend changes, after getting input from Kentuckians. The bill also would give school districts more control in how to turn around low-performing schools.

The Senate also gave final passage to the bill aimed at helping people overcome their criminal past to get occupational licenses they might need to start new careers.

The bill was sent to Bevin on a 36-0 vote. The Republican governor has been a driving force behind efforts to turn former prisoners into productive citizens.

A major thrust of the bill would allow people convicted of crimes to pursue occupational licenses without being automatically turned away due to their criminal background.

Kentucky has at least 60 boards and commissions that issue licenses required for various jobs, including air conditioning contractors, barbers and landscapers. Right now, those boards can deny a license solely because someone has a criminal conviction.

Senators accepted a change made by the House that applies to people convicted of violent or sex-related crimes. Under the change, those offenders would have to prove there’s no connection between their crime and the duties of the occupation for which they’re seeking a license.

“I think it’s going to make Kentucky safer,” Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield said of his bill. “Anything we can do reduce the occurrence of reoffenses, then we’re reducing the number of crime victims, we’re reducing the costs … on incarceration, we’re reducing court dockets.”

Meanwhile, the House sent back to the Senate a bill that includes language to help resolve the Louisville Arena Authority’s financial woes.

The House added language to extend the time period of the tax increment financing district that surrounds the Yum Center to 45 years from 20 years. That would give the authority more time to collect revenue to pay off the bonds that were issued to build the Yum Center, home to the University of Louisville men’s basketball team.

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