General Assembly adjourns sine die after busy final day at Capitol

03/31/2017 03:04 AM

FRANKFORT — The General Assembly wrapped up its work with little time to spare Thursday, adjourning sine die minutes before midnight following a legislative blitz that included a last-minute pitch from Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration for a $15 million bond authorization to help coax an undisclosed economic development opportunity to eastern Kentucky.

Lawmakers passed House Bill 482, which granted that bonding authority for the prospective project, without a dissenting vote in the Senate and House of Representatives, but few details were revealed about the prospective deal.

House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, said if Kentucky beats another state, which he declined to identify, for the the opportunity, it will bring 1,000 construction jobs, 500 full-time jobs with an average salary of $75,000 per year and a $1.3 billion investment from the unnamed company.

“I know for a fact that the governor will be speaking with the CEO tomorrow to discuss the action that we take today in this legislation.” Shell said.

Some House Democrats expressed misgivings about giving the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority an extra $15 million in bonding authority at the 11th hour of the 2017 legislative session, but ultimately none voted against HB 482.

Republicans and Democrats from different parts of the state said they supported the measure and the prospect of hundreds of new jobs in the economically depressed area of eastern Kentucky.

“I don’t know what district it’s going to, but I hope it comes to mine because I’ll tell you what $75,000 does in my district: It’s going to bring my daughter and son-in-law back home with my grandchild,” said Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville. “They’re not going to have to move away.”

“My area is in economic decline, there’s no question about it,” said Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland. “… We’re talking about bringing jobs back to the commonwealth, and we can’t gamble with that.”

The $15 million bond authorization would sunset June 30, 2018, in HB 482, Shell said.

Legislators also approved a number of other bills as the clock wound closer to midnight, including House Bill 72, which would require $250,000 bonds to appeal rezoning decisions handed down by circuit courts.

Rep. Jerry Miller, a Louisville Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said HB 72 would prevent someone from blocking an economic development project through litigation, but opponents said they feared a six-figure appeal bond would restrict access to the courts for relief.

At one point the vote on HB 72 was tied 44-44, but House GOP leaders spoke to Republicans individually on the floor and coaxed enough support to eventually get the bill passed on a 51-39 vote.

This year marked the first time in modern history that Republicans held supermajorities in the House and Senate as well as the Governor’s Office. Bevin, speaking to the Senate, thanked lawmakers for making the 2017 session “transformative.”

“Kentucky is better for it,” he said. “We’ve put seeds in the ground that are going to germinate over time, and as we get older and our kids and grandkids grow up, we’ll be able to look back on the 2017 session and be amazed at the things you’ve set in motion.”

House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, was also pleased with the 30-day session’s outcome.

“I’m very proud of what this House did and the significant legislation that was passed,” he told reporters after concluding his first session with the speaker’s gavel in hand. “There was more significant legislation passed in the 2017 session than in any session in recent memory, including the 60-day sessions, so we’re very proud of that.

“We made promises during the elections last year of things we wanted to do, and we kept those promises.”

But House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, saw more bad than good emerge in legislation passed by the General Assembly this year, singling out items like right-to-work, prevailing wage repeal and public charter schools.

Many of the bills prioritized by House Republicans were “bad policy for the people of Kentucky,” he said.

“In my opinion you can’t tear down the wages of the middle class,” Adkins told Pure Politics, referencing right-to-work and prevailing wage repeal. “You’ve got to build those up. The strongest economy ever known to this world was built on the backs of a strong middle class right here in the United States of America.”

Thursday likely won’t be the last time the General Assembly convenes ahead of the 2018 budget session. Bevin has said he plans to call lawmakers back to Frankfort for a special session on tax and pension reform, and Hoover told reporters he hopes a special session comes after the start of the school year.

Spectrum News reporter Don Weber contributed to this report.


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