KET Legislative Coverage

Day 53: A Nuclear Option and Charter Schools

by Renee Shaw | 03/26/14 12:42 PM

A retiring western Kentucky lawmaker is making his last attempt to lift the state's 30-year ban on constructing nuclear power plants. Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Bob Leeper (I-Paducah) attached his perennial bill, which has historically stalled in the House, to a measure to benefit, AK Steel, a company that's widely considered vital to Kentucky's steel, coal, and auto industries.

On Tuesday, Leeper explained it's not his style to piggyback bills to unrelated ones, but said economic conditions justify the procedural tactic in this case. Leeper's district has suffered devastating job losses at Paducah's Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which produces enriched uranium.

Sen. Brandon Smith (R-Hazard) affirmed the importance of AK Steel, the beneficiary of the original bill, to the beleaguered coal industry.

Sen. Walter Blevins (D-Morehead), who represents eight northeastern Kentucky counties, voiced grave concerns about the health and safety risks of nuclear power. But he said the well-being of AK Steel overrode those fears.

Sen. Robin Webb (D-Grayson) has long supported the moratorium on nuclear power plants. But she reminded colleagues that lifting the ban isn't tantamount to approving a nuclear power plant, which would require a lengthy and rigorous public review process.

The Senate-amended House Bill 483 passed the upper chamber on a 38-0 vote, and now goes back to the House for its approval or rejection of the Senate changes.

Charter Schools
Another measure is on its way to the House after clearing the Senate on a partisan vote Tuesday. Senate Bill 211 creates avenues for persistently low-achieving schools to become charter schools. The sponsor, Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green), explained the additional option his bill gives school districts.

Sen. Gerald Neal (D-Louisville) said he did not begrudge Wilson for bringing the bill forward. But he argued it would not accomplish its purported mission, and he dismissed the use of the term "charter schools" as politically polarizing.

The Senate passed SB 211 by a 22-14 vote.

Tune in to Legislative Update tonight at 11 on KET. Follow me on Twitter @ReneeKET.

Senate reporter Steve Shaw contributed to this post.