Republicans send most of their priority bills to Gov. Bevin, who says they'll be law by Monday

01/07/2017 11:40 PM

FRANKFORT — After the Republican-led General Assembly sent seven of their priority bills to his desk on Saturday, Gov. Matt Bevin pledged that all would be law by Monday.

Saturday marked the end of a whirlwind first week of the 30-day session, which had typically been used as an organizational period before lawmakers settled into their work in February, primarily in the House of Representatives under Democratic leadership.

Bills that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, bar unions from collecting dues from non-members, repeal the state’s prevailing wage and reorganize the University of Louisville’s board of trustees, among others, landed on Bevin’s desk. All carry emergency clauses, making them immediately effective once Bevin signs them.

“I love ‘em all, I do,” Bevin said in a news conference outside his Capitol office when asked which bill he would sign first. “There’s life issues, there’s business issues. I truly appreciate every single one of them.”

He called the U of L bill, Senate Bill 12, “a clean-up job” and other pieces of legislation passed “the effort of some amazing work for years and years and years that have been stymied and stymied and stymied.”

House Speaker Jeff Hoover, in a press conference in his office suite after adjourning the House until Feb. 7, said Republicans were able to through on some of their campaign pledges in the first five days of the 30-day session.

“We have produced results with the legislation we passed this week,” he said. “I feel really good. I think the people of Kentucky should feel really good about how we came in and went to work. They may disagree from a policy standpoint, they may disagree with some of the bills, but they cannot say we didn’t come here and go to work the very first hour that we were here.”

Senate President Robert Stivers called the five-day opening salvo “historic” and credited cooperation among the Governor’s Office, Senate and House for the early movement on GOP priority bills.

“It is, I think, a prelude to many things that will be very positive for the state that we as a legislature — with Jeff Hoover, myself, our respective bodies — can sit down and coordinate our activities to do this in five days, which many people did not expect could ever happen under the best of circumstances,” he said during the news conference with Bevin.

Legislators have 25 days remaining in the 2017 session, and they’ll focus on other bills when they return to Frankfort.

Stivers, R-Manchester, says he plans to file a bill that would give the Senate confirmation authority over gubernatorial nominees for trustees at every state university.

The upper chamber has also given two readings to bills that seek to create medical review panels in malpractice lawsuits; overhaul state education standards; reform oversight of state pensions; prohibit state and local dollars to health groups like Planned Parenthood and create a three-tiered system for federal Title X dollars; loosen concealed-carry laws; raise first-time heroin or fentanyl trafficking penalties to Class C felonies; and protect religious expression at public schools.

No bills in the House have received even a first reading, except for Republicans’ first effort at revamping the U of L board.

Hoover, R-Jamestown, was mum on his chamber’s priorities when lawmakers return to continue the 30-day session Feb. 7.

“We’ve had some discussion,” he said. “I’m not really at liberty to say what that is, but these were the issues that we felt real confident that we wanted to get passed this first week, and we were able to do that.”

“I don’t think you’ll see the breakneck speed that you saw this week, but you will see us be pretty aggressive about getting some things done that we want to get done,” he added.

House action

The House voted out four of the seven pieces of legislation enrolled by both chambers Saturday.

The tightest margin came when Senate Bill 6 hit the floor. SB 6, which would require labor unions to obtain written permission to collect dues from members and open financial information to members, cleared the lower chamber on a 57-39 vote.

It was a piece of legislation that attracted hundreds labor protestors, whose chants at times filled the Capitol. Democrats complained that they weren’t afforded gallery passes for the weekend session and accused the majority Republicans of targeting unions with the paycheck, right-to-work and prevailing wage bills.

“Their voice is being diminished by this very body, and not every voice, but the voice of labor,” said Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford. “We need to understand that. We are going after one organization.”

But Republicans countered that the bill would increase transparency in the organizations and give union workers control of how they pay their dues. SB 6 will not affect current labor contracts.

The legislation “allows the members access to information that corporations and other entities have to give and have to report, and those informations are salaries of union officers and so forth,” said Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville.

The House also approved legislation to reorganize the University of Louisville to a 10-member board from the current 17-seat makeup on a 57-35 vote. Senate Bill 12 would require Bevin to make new appointments to the 10-member board through recommendations by the Governor’s Council on Postsecondary Education and give the Senate confirmation authority.

Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, said the UofL board had been “badly broken” due to inaction on numerous issues like passing a budget and setting tuition. He also said Democrats made up the entirety of the board reinstated by a circuit court order, which lacks minority representation.

House Democrats, however, said that Bevin could remedy those deficiencies by filling five current vacancies on the board and wait for another two slots to open up later this year.

They also cautioned against passing the bill until the Southern Associations of Colleges and Schools had given the school formal notice of its one-year accreditation probation, a move sparked by Bevin’s original reorganization. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, whose father filled the state universities’ boards in two terms as governor, sued and won in Franklin Circuit Court.

Bevin’s administration has appealed the lower court decision.

House Minority Whip Wilson Stone, who at one time served on the SACS Commission on Colleges, said the university’s probation has likely affected student recruitment and fundraising.

“We’re already talking about faculty recruitment,” said Stone, D-Scottsville. “We’re already talking about faculty members as they apply for grants and fellowships and all of the things that make our great research institutions great institutions.”

“Any lapse of time here is going to be detrimental to this fine institution in our state,” he added. “No question about it.”

Republicans countered that with a looming interim vacancy for an already vacant presidency at the school and the current board barred from taking personnel action, the school needs stability with its board.

With interim President Neville Pinto recently accepting the presidency at the University of Cincinnati, “there is a strong case to be made that something needs to be in place so they can begin that presidential search,” Hoover told reporters.

“The other thing is, as was brought up on the floor, we felt like if we went ahead and acted, this was a discussion we had with the Senate, we would at least be able to get some feedback from SACS on what they thought about that.”

Bevin said the legislation provided “resolution for the University of Louisville” from “the ultimate authority” in writing law regarding postsecondary institutions.

“The legislature, the people’s elected body, they’re the ones who have responsibility for deciding the things that are done with taxpayer dollars for our public universities, and that’s exactly what they did,” the governor said.

Beshear said he was shocked that the General Assembly “approved the governor’s illegal actions that resulted in serious sanctions against the University of Louisville.”

“If SACS enforces its written rules then the damage is done to the University of Louisville, but the governor’s claim of ‘absolute authority’ to dissolve any university board at any time for any reason still threatens every other public university and all Kentucky students and their families,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to fight through the court system and in every other forum to protect Kentucky families and to enforce the law.”

Legislation banning abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy cleared the lower chamber on a 79-15 vote.

Senate Bill 5 includes a provision establishing a litigation fund for any lawsuits challenging the legislation.

Hoover said he was confident that the bill is constitutional and that he didn’t share some Democrats’ concerns that SB 5 did not include exemptions for victims of rape or incest.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, predicted that “our friends at the (American Civil Liberties Union) will file a lawsuit.”

“I have little doubt that at least part of their motivation will be, as it always is, to try to recover a bucketful of attorneys’ fees,” he said. “I have little doubt about that.”

ACLU of Kentucky Advocacy Director Kate Miller said SB 5 and legislation requiring ultrasounds before abortions “were the culmination of a week where many members of the General Assembly worked at breakneck speed to severely restrict women’s reproductive rights.”

“In floor speech after floor speech Saturday, lawmakers discussed the true intention of their support of the bills, which was simply banning abortion,” she said in a statement. “Senate Bill 5 and House Bill 2 are not about women’s health. They represent nothing more than political intrusion in the most personal, private decisions.”

The House passed Senate Bill 3, which would open legislators’ pensions for public scrutiny, on a 95-1 vote. Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, was the lone dissenter.

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