FRANKFORT — Unveiling a political platform called "Handshake with Kentucky," state House Republican leaders promised Tuesday to approve "right-to-work" legislation and a host of other proposals if they gain control of the House this fall.
Republicans are trying to wrest control of the state House from Democrats for the first time since 1921. Democrats now outnumber Republicans in the House 54-46. The state Senate has been controlled by Republicans since 2000.
"If the people of Kentucky entrust us with the majority, we are committing to immediately begin debate with the intention of passing each of these pieces of legislation," House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover said in a statement on the first day of a media tour to tout Republican candidates.
Hoover contended that House Democratic leaders have made "empty promises" and "squandered real opportunities while surrounding states prosper."
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House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, dismissed the GOP platform.
"While the House Republicans make empty promises, or take our ideas as their own, our Democratic members are the ones sponsoring the laws that create jobs, promote government transparency and accountability, and make life-saving gains in combating drug addiction," Stumbo said in a statement.
Stumbo said he is proud of what the House Democratic caucus has accomplished and pledge that it would continue working with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear "to free Kentucky from the Republican-caused recession our nation has suffered under for years."
Hoover and other GOP leaders said Tuesday that the top priority of the 2015 lawmaking session should be economic growth and job creation.
They advocated passage of "right-to-work" legislation, which would allow people to work in businesses that have unions without joining the union or paying union dues.
"While we support the right of a worker to join a labor union, we do not believe an employee should be forced to do so as a condition of employment," the GOP caucus declares in its platform. "Rather, each employee will have the freedom to make that decision for oneself."
Passing the legislation would put Kentucky "in a more advantageous position when competing with other states to attract jobs," according to the platform. Twenty-four states have "right-to-work" laws.
House Democrats have consistently opposed changing laws regarding union membership. Instead, they have proposed raising the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.
The latest Bluegrass Poll, released earlier this week, showed that an equal number of Kentucky voters — 55 percent — support "right-to-work" legislation and raising the minimum wage.
The GOP platform also said more jobs would be created with passage of a public-private partnership law that allows private entities to oversee infrastructure projects and other public services.
In addition, House Republicans said they will adopt a tax reform plan "that encourages and does not penalize productivity, rewards people for hard work, and creates jobs." They did not provide any further specifics about how this would occur.
On health care, GOP leaders said Kentucky cannot afford "the unprecedented expansion of our Medicaid system."
As of July 31, more than 521,000 Kentuckians had enrolled in coverage through Kynect, the health insurance exchange created by Beshear under the federal law. The majority of those enrolled received Medicaid, the government-funded insurance program for the poor and disabled.
A House Republican majority would introduce a constitutional amendment to "prohibit any person, employer or health care provider from being compelled to participate in any health care system," the Republican leaders promised.