KY Legislative Session Off to Highly Contentious, Probably Anti-Labor, Potentially Gridlocked Races


In Kentucky, the inevitable fight for ideological control has begun with newly elected Republican Governor Matt Bevin at the helm.  On Tuesday, the state legislature began its session with a bevy of political infighting as Democrats and Republicans battled for committee membership and leadership positions.  Currently, Republicans hold a 27-11 majority in the Senate.  In the House, Democrats currently hold 50 of the 100 seats compared to 46 for the Republicans.  Making the waters even murkier is the fact that several Democrats jumped ship and joined the GOP before the session began, not wanting to have to run in the shadow of recent gubernatorial defeat. 

Special elections will be held in March to fill the remaining four House seats. Given the recent partisan shift in Kentucky, it is assumed that all four will go to the Republicans, setting up a 50-50 tie.

On the first day of legislature, Republicans argued that Democrats no longer have a “clear majority” and withheld a vote on procedural rules in order to force a move towards what they view as more proportional membership on House committees.  House Democrats essentially sidestepped the move, declaring that without consensus the rules from 2015 would stay in effect.  

Touching on the turbulent beginning to the legislative session, House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover spoke with the Bowling Green Daily News:

“This is the most contentious opening day in the 20 years I’ve been here.  You can sense the nervousness from (Democratic) leadership and from their rank and file members that this thing is close.”

Governor Matt Bevin ran on a platform which called for multiple anti-union measures.  Given Kentucky’s laws, each day is increasingly important to the agenda as the state’s lawmakers can meet for only 60 days and must adjourn by April 15th.  Further complicating the situation is the fact that House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, says he will not step down even if Republicans pick up all four seats in the special elections.

While the House has yet to decide which topics it will tackle first, the Senate has a clear agenda based on Gov. Bevin’s campaign promises:

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he expected the Senate will pass bills on many of the issues Gov. Matt Bevin campaigned for last year.

These, he said, include bills to restrict abortion, ban payment of union dues as a condition for employment, repeal a law requiring construction workers be paid a local “prevailing wage,” and establish review panels to look at medical malpractice lawsuits before they go to court.

Though fear is a natural response for union members given the GOP’s goals of cutting the prevailing wage and enforcing “Right-to-Work” on the local level, the reality is that the short period of time allotted and the need to pass a two-year budget could push labor issues to the backburner. In union members’ favor is the fact that the bitterly divided legislature must also take on issues such as charter schools, public pensions, abortion, voting rights for felons, educational spending, caps on lawsuit damages, and a higher statewide minimum wage.

Finding the money to fix some of these problems will take time and creativity from Gov. Bevin.  In a state that has traditionally had revenue problems, Kentucky will actually have more money in the next two years than in years past.  According to McClatchy, state economists predict Kentucky can spend $10.6 billion in fiscal year 2017 and $10.8 billion in fiscal year 2018, up from $10.3 billion this year. 

As Senate President Robert Stivers told WKMS, “It’s going to be a daunting task for the governor, whether it was this governor or any governor that may have come in, to balance this budget.”

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