The shouts of angry union workers echoed through the state Capitol on Saturday as Kentucky’s Republican-majority legislature gave final approval to bills limiting the power of labor unions to collect dues and banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who supports the proposals, said Saturday night that he will sign the bills into law by Monday. “I love them all,” he said.
The bills all contain an emergency clause, so they will take effect as soon as Bevin signs them.
Earlier in the day, cries from the hundreds of protesters who converged on the Capitol became so loud that Senate President Robert Stivers said he was having difficulty hearing senators speak.
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Undeterred, the Senate approved House Bill 1, to let workers avoid paying union dues even if they get the benefits of a union-negotiated workplace contract, and House Bill 3, to repeal the prevailing wage, a rate of minimum wages paid to construction workers on local government projects.
Kentucky will be the 27th state to become a so-called “right-to-work” state after Bevin signs HB 1, said Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.
Republicans said the bill will help attract businesses to the state. Democrats predicted job losses and lower wages.
“We are confident this will lead to more jobs and more opportunities for Kentuckians,” the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce said in a statement after the bill passed the Senate on a 25-12 vote.
Reflecting the sentiment of union workers, the vote prompted an unhappy spectator in the gallery to shout out, “You all are pitiful!”
Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, called HB 3 “nothing more than a giveaway to corporate America.” He said the next round of legislative elections in 2018 will be a referendum on Bevin and Republicans who voted for the labor bills.
The Senate also signed off on House Bill 2, which will require doctors to conduct an ultrasound exam on women seeking an abortion. Women could opt out of viewing the sonogram by signing a form.
Across the Capitol, the House approved a separate abortion measure, Senate Bill 5, banning the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. There would be no exceptions for rape or incest, although women could still get abortions if they faced a “serious risk” to their physical health.
Doctors who violate the ban can face penalties ranging from the loss of their medical license to a felony conviction that can bring up to five years in prison. Additionally, both the mother and the father are entitled to sue the doctor for civil damages.
Republicans said 20 weeks is an appropriate time for the state to intervene in a pregnancy because a fetus at that point begins to feel pain, and it can survive outside the mother’s body.
“The scientific evidence that these children feel pain at 20 weeks is overwhelming,” said Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas.
Democrats countered that women should be responsible for making their own decisions about their pregnancies. Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, said abortion after 20 weeks is relatively rare, usually done in response to health problems with the fetus or the mother.
“It is demeaning to women, it is patronizing to families, to think that we need 138 people (in the legislature) — very few of whom have any medical knowledge — to legislate what will happen to them,” said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville.
The House also gave final passage to Senate Bill 6, to require workers to “opt in” to having union dues withheld from their paychecks instead of allowing automatic paycheck deductions. Unlike HB 1, which is aimed at unions generally, SB 6 is meant to target public employee unions, said Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Rockfield, speaking for the Senate bill.
Republicans said it’s unfair to take money from a worker’s pay without his permission to support a union, especially if some of that money might go to campaign donations to politicians he would not support personally.
In reply, Democrats said many of the state’s professional and business organizations require people to pay membership dues in order to be represented. But the GOP majority is only interested in reducing the clout of labor unions, they said.
“This is a promise made to our top 1 percent, to our wealthiest 1 percent, to pay our workers less,” Marzian said.
And the House approved Senate Bill 12, which will create a new University of Louisville governing board comprised of 10 trustees subject to Senate confirmation, selected by the governor from a larger pool of 30 people recommended by the Council on Postsecondary Education.
Last year, Bevin dissolved the U of L board over what he deemed dysfunction. He appointed a smaller, 10-person board. Attorney General Andy Beshear then sued, saying the governor had overstepped his authority. A circuit judge agreed, which reconstituted the original board. Bevin appealed and both sides are waiting to see if the case will go directly to the Supreme Court.
Last month, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools put the university on probation, saying Bevin’s actions had threatened the school’s independence. Loss of accreditation would threaten federal funding of research and financial aid, as well as NCAA sports.
Stivers also filed a measure Saturday dealing with other university boards.
He said Senate Bill 107 would “bring clarity to the statutes as to what the governor’s authority is for removal of board members for cause and for improper appointment.”
The bill also would require Senate confirmation of all public university boards, he said. Stivers said he has talked to Bevin about his latest bill but not to university presidents.
“We want to make sure what has happened at the University of Louisville never happens again,” he said.
On a less controversial note, the House overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 3, which will allow legislators’ state pensions to be disclosed under the Kentucky Open Records Act. The vote was 95 to 1. Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, the sole opponent, said the public can make an educated guess about legislative pensions based on lawmakers’ salaries, which already are a public record.
Saturday was the fifth day of the 2017 legislation session. Lawmakers will be in recess for four weeks until they return to Frankfort in February to complete the rest of the session.