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Bluegrass Beacon: Boosting term limits, busting bad homeschooling bills

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

A retiring state senator instrumental in pushing pension reform and a homeschooling opponent from eastern Kentucky are the latest additions to this column’s growing list of Liberty Boosters and Busters.

Liberty Booster: Sen. Joe Bowen’s personal commitment to term limits.

While there may be several factors related to Bowen’s decision to hang up his legislative spurs after two terms in the Kentucky Senate, one thing he made clear to me: “it has nothing to do with tough times.”

The “tough times” Bowen, R-Owensboro, refers to involve his yeoman’s effort in shepherding controversial pension-reform legislation through passage in the State and Local Government Committee in the face of withering opposition led by union bosses and retiree groups’ talking heads.

He’s faced the tough times and stood firm, choosing to cast his votes based on what’s best for the entire commonwealth rather than pushing aside the concerns of hardworking private-sector taxpayers whose voices sometimes get drowned out these days by the incessant heckling and chanting of special interest groups in Frankfort.

Bowen always planned on limiting his time on the political stage to two terms in the Senate after serving a term in the House.

“I always have believed in terms limits, that I should go, serve and go home,” he said.

It’s not something Bowen wants to force on other lawmakers.

“It’s just always been a deep personal conviction that I’ve always had about what I should do,” he said.

He’s also not one to fudge by changing his mind to make it three terms or more.

For Bowen, term limits meant – and still means – “two terms, max.”

Bowen’s willingness to voluntarily step off the stage may be the only way in the foreseeable future to have term limits; most incumbents don’t seem interested in codifying it even though the policy is supported by an overwhelming majority across the political spectrum.

Liberty Buster: Rep. Chris Harris’ awful House Bill 574, which adds significant new mandates on the backs of Kentucky’s homeschooling parents and discourages families considering this approach to educating their children.

When radical legislation like this is introduced every couple of years, it creates consternation in Kentucky’s homeschooling community and brings swift reaction.

United Kentucky Tea Party spokesman Scott Hofstra fired an email update to his group warning the bill “would be a huge blow to parents being able to homeschool their children in Kentucky,” adding: “With no school choice and a do-nothing charter school bill, parents need their strong homeschool option.”

HB 574 is worse than most in that it

  • makes the education bureaucracy the arbiter of both the curriculum and performance standards homeschoolers must meet

  • sets the stage for the Kentucky Department of Education’s own Common Core-based state standards to become the de facto mandate for homeschools

  • requires much more from homeschoolers than public-school students by mandating the collection of “tests, writings, worksheets, workbooks, and creative materials used or developed by the student”

This bill is as bad as Harris’ efforts are good to require more transparency from private companies using taxpayer dollars to do business with government, as we previously praised him for in this column.

An amazing political phenomenon seen too often in the legislature is how a policymaker can be as equally off-target on one issue as he is splendid on another.

The good news is HB 574 isn’t going anywhere except in the legislative trash can where it belongs.

Still, isn’t it remarkable that such a bad bill wasting taxpayers’ time and treasure even gets filed in Kentucky?

Correction: Last week’s column should have stated the current Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for retired teachers is 1.5 percent, which Senate Bill 1 proposes lowering to 1 percent for the foreseeable future.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

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