Issues to watch before the General Assembly in 2017

01/01/2017 10:00 AM

With supermajority control of the House and Senate and the Governor’s Mansion under their control, the Republican Party has free reign to pass legislation once stuck in committee or killed out-right in the House of Representatives under Democratic control.

Tuesday will mark the first day of the 30-day long short session for the General Assembly, a process that will take three-months and will reveal how quickly the GOP in the House have been able to get organized after taking the majority in November.

Many of the items likely to come up this year were pushed before by the Senate Republicans in previous sessions, only this time the bills could potentially pass with help from their GOP brethren in the lower chamber.


Legislation to allow workers to choose whether or not they want to be a member of a union, something the House GOP proposed in recent years as they sought control of the lower chamber.

A right-to-work bill has cleared the Senate in recent sessions only to fail in a House committee.

Revoking the Prevailing Wage

The Republican led Senate has passed legislation recently which would exempt schools and universities from Kentucky’s prevailing wage law, which sets higher wage rates for public works projects. The GOP has pushed for the move, which they say would allow school districts to save money and put those dollars elsewhere.

Democrats have voiced concerns that construction quality will suffer if the prevailing wage is repealed, as well as fears the legislation will hurt the construction workers who will be paid less for their work.

Charter Schools

In recent sessions the legislature has offered some form of charter school bill. The latest bill from the Senate GOP is a narrowly defined pilot project in struggling urban areas.

Recognizing the move is coming, the Kentucky Department of Education recently approved a framework for charter schools. The framework Charters are public schools in which an authorizer and charter operator enter into a performance-based contract, or charter, that spells out the school’s governance, funding, accountability and flexibility, among other things, according to a press release.

KDE did not approve of charter’s in their most recent meeting, but did set forth some guiding principles including: Local boards of education should be the authorizers of charter schools.

If multiple authorizers are allowed, the number of authorizers should be capped and limited to nonsectarian; nonprofit organizations; local governments and universities. The Kentucky Board of Education should be the final arbiter for approving conflicts and in providing oversight of the state charter initiative, the department wrote.

Anti-Abortion Legislation

Republicans were able to move a pre-abortion informed consent bill toward a compromise resolution during the 2016 legislative session, but look for another abortion related bill to rise to the surface during the 2017 legislative session.

Social issues are not expected to play a prominent role from the legislative leaders, but the caucuses could still send some related bills to the House and Senate floor this session.

Campaign Finance

Both legislative chambers have toyed with the idea of raising the limits of contributions from individuals and political action committees (PACs) to candidates and campaign committees in recent years.

In 2016, it was the House Democrats who brought a bill raising PAC and individual limits. The upper limit for donations to caucus campaigns and state and local executive committees was also adjusted from $2,500 to $5,000. The bill was passed on the final day of the session, but not taken up by the Senate.

Moving Election Years

The Senate has brought a constitutional change in the last several sessions which would move the elections of the governor and other statewide officers to even numbered years starting in 2024.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate Budget Committee Chair Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, has told members the move would save the commonwealth $3.5 million every four-years, and save counties an estimated $14.2 million by moving the election during even numbered years when state legislative, congressional, presidential, and U.S. Senate races take place.

Making that change, though, would require an amendment to Kentucky’s constitution, the Republicans have enough members to push through the amendments, but the electorate would have to also agree during the next set of elections in 2018.

Codifying Executive Orders

Lawmakers will have to decide just how much “legislative independence” they want to exercise as Gov. Matt Bevin has already begun to indicate his hope the legislature will make his changes to several boards and commissions law.

The likely biggest decision to the executive orders is whether or not the General Assembly will go along with changes to the University of Louisville board of trustees.

Tax Reform

Gov. Matt Bevin has already signaled his willingness to call a special session in 2017 to deal with the issue of tax reform — which has long been debated in Frankfort.

If the call is not made during the 2017 calendar year it will likely not take place in 2018 when the House and half the Senate is up for re-election.


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