House approves right-to-work, prevailing wage repeal and pre-abortion ultrasound bills to Senate after voting marathon

01/05/2017 11:30 PM

FRANKFORT — House Republicans steamrolled three pieces of priority legislation through the lower chamber during a marathon five-plus-hour voting session on Thursday, sending bills that would require ultrasounds before abortions, make Kentucky a right-to-work state and repeal the state’s prevailing wage law to the Senate.

Thursday’s votes set up final passage for the three bills — House Bill 1, House Bill 2 and House Bill 3 — on Saturday.

Debate on all bills was limited to an hour, 30 minutes each for proponents and opponents, but opponents and supporters of each bill also took time to explain their votes.

HB 2, which would mandate ultrasounds before women can receive abortions, was the first bill to pass the chamber on a bipartisan 83-12 vote. Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, indicated that he erroneously voted for the bill and would change his vote to “no.”

The pro-life bill went back through the House Judiciary Committee in House Speaker Jeff Hoover’s conference room for technical corrections, essentially sidestepping Democratic floor amendments that would have banned abortions outright and set limit on the procedures at 20 weeks. Attempts to suspend House rules to consider the floor amendments failed.

Rep. Jim Duplessis, R-Elizabethtown, said the bill would give patients more information before moving forward with the procedure.

“This bill seeks to inform the patient of what else is growing in her body and how large it is and how old it is and if there’s more than one and maybe even if the baby has passed,” he said. “This is an informational bill that will help women make informed decisions.

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, cited her concerns the such a bill would violate the First Amendment by compelling speech from physicians while Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, said women seeking abortions are well-informed about the procedure under current state law.

“This legislation, with enormous respect, is written from a man’s point of view from this experience,” Flood said.

The legislation attracted support from a number of Democrats. Rep. Angie Hatton, a Whitesburg Democrat who received robocalls from the Republican Party of Kentucky after voting against HB 2 in committee on Wednesday, voted in favor of it on the floor.

Hatton, who also voted against it in Thursday’s committee meeting, said she opposed the way the bill moved quickly through the committee process.

“I think that had we had a chance to discuss this bill, we might’ve come up with something that was not going to open this state up to millions of dollars in litigation,” she said.

The vote was tighter on HB 1, which would prohibit unions from collecting fees from non-members and passed 58-39. Five Republicans — Reps. Danny Bentley of Russell, John Blanton of Salyersville, Matt Castlen of Owenboro, Tommy Turner of Somerset and Jill York of Grayson — joined Democrats in voting against the legislation.

At times, union workers cheered from the House gallery as Democrats stood up to speak in opposition of HB 1.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said the measure would weaken labor groups and widen the financial gaps between “the haves and the have nots.”

“I can’t help but believe based on what I read and reflect on in scripture that God must be creating a huge addition to hell to accommodate the forces behind this kind of legislation because these people mask their greed in the form of economic opportunity,” he said.

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said HB 1 “is not a vote for or against unions.”

“I will stand here and fight to my last breath for the right to unionize,” he said. “But I stand here today fighting for the right not to unionize, for the person who’s against it for whatever reason not to have to join the union.”

The House passed HB 3, the prevailing wage law repeal, on an even tighter 57-40 margin, with Reps. David Hale, R-Wellington, and Melinda Prunty, R-Belton, joining the five Republicans who broke rank on HB 1 in voting with most Democrats against HB 3. Rep. Jody Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat who formerly served as House speaker and speaker pro tem, voted in favor of the bill.

Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, said cutting labor costs in public projects by repealing the prevailing wage law would give the state more money to address its troubled pension systems.

“These aren’t normal times,” he said. “We have financial burdens. The governor has brought to light the pension problem we have in Kentucky, and we’re scrambling for dollars, and we need to make every penny count in Kentucky.”

House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said repealing the state’s prevailing wage law will “drive down wages for good, hard, middle-class, working people.”

“Do we want quality work done by Kentucky people and Kentucky contractors, or do we want to bring them in from out of state and all over the nation to do our work in Kentucky if it costs a little bit more to make sure that happens?” he said. “I think it’s worth it.”

After the votes were cast, the House wasted little time in giving first readings to a handful of Senate priority bills — Senate Bills 3, 4, 5, 6 and 12 — that passed the Republican-led upper chamber earlier Thursday and assigning them to committees.

Those committees scheduled Friday meetings, putting them on the fast track for final passage on Saturday. Most of the bills slated for Saturday votes have emergency clauses, meaning they will be effective once Gov. Matt Bevin signs them.

That prompted howls from Democrats, who questioned why House Republican leaders would churn through legislation so quickly in the 30-day session’s opening week.

Adkins called the GOP’s swift handling of legislation “a mockery.”

“I would just request that we slow this process down a little bit and that we put it back in at least second gear to allow us to get our feet on the ground,” he said.

But Republicans countered that Democrats employed the same legislative practices when they held the speaker’s gavel.


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