Kentucky’s legislature, newly united under Republican control, delivered more than three dozen bills to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in the final 48 hours of the 2017 session, which ended just before midnight Thursday.
“It’s been a phenomenal session. I just came up to thank you,” Bevin told the Kentucky Senate late Thursday during a brief visit. “I am personally grateful because this has been a transformative session. Kentucky is better for it. We’ve put seeds in the ground that will germinate over time.”
For all the comity, there were a few last-minute surprises.
The House did not hold a final vote on a controversial bill that would have ended Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear’s right to file friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the state in outside lawsuits. It also would have capped at $20 million the contingency fees Beshear could approve for outside lawyers he hires to sue large corporations on behalf of Kentuckians.
“We just did not have time,” House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, later told reporters about the demise of House Bill 281.
Also, at the request of the Bevin administration, lawmakers approved a sudden rewrite of House Bill 482 to add $15 million in bond funds for an unidentified economic development project in Eastern Kentucky.
The money would support a private sector investment of no less than $1 billion that must begin by June 30, 2018. In lieu of bond funds, the state could take the money from one of its reserve accounts, according to the bill.
Democratic lawmakers who pressed for details were told that little could be revealed at this time in order to keep Kentucky competitive against another state vying for the project. However, legislative leaders indicated the project would be located in Eastern Kentucky, and it would provide 1,000 construction jobs up front, and then 500 permanent jobs with an average salary of $75,000.
On Friday, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters that the unnamed company is interested in Kentucky in part because the legislature approved the so-called “right-to-work” law this session (House Bill 1) that allows employees to enjoy the benefits of a collective bargaining contract in their workplace without having to join a labor union.
Overall, Stivers said, it was “a very successful session” with “an aggressive agenda.”
These are some of the bills passed this week and sent to the governor for his signature or veto:
Senate Bill 1 will create a new process for school districts and the Kentucky Department of Education to intervene in low-performing schools and review classroom academic standards.
Senate Bill 120 will rewrite parts of Kentucky penal law to make it easier for certain felons to work for private employers while they are in prison or through daytime work release in jail. It also will prevent defendants from being jailed because they are unable to pay court costs, and it will create a pilot project similar to drug court to supervise newly released felons with addictions.
House Bill 72 will let judges set bonds of $100,000 to $250,000 for neighborhood associations or other parties appealing a zoning lawsuit from circuit court. Supporters said this will protect economic development projects from frivolous litigation. Opponents said it will create an impossible barrier for citizens who want to challenge developers in their communities.
House Bill 128 will allow school districts to offer elective Bible study classes.
House Bill 156 will create a Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreation Authority to promote outdoor activity and tourism with money from the state’s abandoned mine lands fund. It also will set aside $7.5 million a year from the state’s share of coal severance money to create a Kentucky Coal Fields Endowment Authority, to diversify coal counties’ economies.
House Bill 277 will ease anti-nepotism rules by allowing aunts, uncles, daughters-in-law and sons-in-law of school board members to be hired by a school district.
These are some of the bills delivered to Bevin, and signed into law by him, earlier in the session:
Senate Bill 4 created medical review panels comprised of three medical professionals who will decide the merits of malpractice and neglect claims against doctors, hospitals and nursing homes before the claims can proceed in court as lawsuits.
Senate Bill 5 banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Senate Bill 6 required workers to “opt in” to having union dues withheld from their paychecks, and it also requires unions to separately solicit money for their political activities.
Senate Bill 8 bumped Planned Parenthood to the back of the line for about $300,000 a year in federal family planning funds.
Senate Bill 17 detailed the right of public students to express religious viewpoints in school.
Senate Bill 75 doubled the amount that donors can contribute to state political campaigns and then allows automatic increases in the future tied to inflation. It also allowed the political parties to take unlimited donations from corporations for newly established “building funds,” intended to be used for the parties’ headquarters.
Senate Bill 107 granted sweeping powers to the governor to abolish every public educational governing board in Kentucky, including those at state universities, the Kentucky Board of Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education.
Senate Bill 153 created a new method of funding higher education, funneling $1 billion to state universities based on their graduation rates and other performance measures.
House Bill 2 required doctors to conduct an ultrasound and present the results to women before performing an abortion. The ACLU is suing in federal court to block the law, arguing that it violates the free speech rights of doctors. U.S. District Judge David Hale is expected soon to decide whether to issue a temporary injunction against the law, as the ACLU has requested.
House Bill 3 repealed the “prevailing wage,” which guaranteed a base rate of $20 to $30 an hour for skilled construction workers, depending on their job and location, when they were employed on local government projects.
House Bill 14 extended the state’s hate crimes law to include criminal acts committed against police officers and other emergency workers.