Republican lawmakers in Kentucky used their new majority in the state Legislature on Saturday to pass bills targeting labor unions and abortion over the shouts of hundreds of protesters that packed the cavernous Capitol.
With chants of "we will remember in November" seeping through the closed doors of the state Senate, lawmakers voted to ban labor unions from collecting mandatory dues from employees they represent in collective bargaining. They also repealed a law guaranteeing higher wages for construction workers on publicly financed projects.
Lawmakers also voted to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the life of the mother is in danger. And for abortions prior to 20 weeks, the legislature ordered women to first undergo an ultrasound that includes the fetal heartbeat. The laws do not include exceptions for rape or incest.
Lawmakers agreed to make their pension benefits subject to open records requests. And the University of Louisville will get its third board of trustees in the past seven months after lawmakers agreed to abolish and replace its governing body at the behest of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.
All of the bills are now on the governor's desk, and Bevin said they would all be law by Monday. He called them "generationally changing" pieces of legislation.
"We've done in five days more than typically gets done in any session," he said.
Saturday's flurry of activity capped an unprecedented week for the legislature, where Republicans used their historic majorities to cram several long-stalled GOP proposals into a week normally reserved for organizational activity like assigning committees and electing leaders.
Democrats decried the moves as cold-hearted and portrayed Republicans as beholden to their corporate campaign contributors.
"Let's just call it what it is. This week has been a massacre of the middle class," Democratic state Rep. Will Coursey said. "It's akin to the feces of a species of poultry."
Hundreds of protesters filled the Capitol, carrying signs and chanting so loudly that the Republican Senate president ordered the doors shut to muffle the noise. Most of the protesters were union workers dressed in brown overalls and boots while carrying signs that criticized "the suits" in the Legislature.
Mike Hickey, a 54-year-old insulator from Louisville, compared the bill banning mandatory union dues — known as "right-to-work"— to someone attempting to enjoy Louisville's famous Valhalla Golf Club without paying a membership fee.
"It's just not fair. Why should they reap the benefits of union wage and benefits and not pay the same as everybody else?" he said.
The debate turned emotional when the House took up a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill includes an exception if the mother's life is at risk, but it does not cover mental illnesses that could lead to suicide. And Democrats noted most abortions occur before 20 weeks.
Republicans were undeterred, saying the bill would save lives.
"Unborn children do not have the ability to speak up for their rights," Republican state Rep. James Tipton said.
Similar laws in other states have been challenged in court, but Republicans seemed to anticipate that by creating a "litigation fund" for the state to use to defend the law. Republican Rep. Stan Lee said it was necessary because he did not believe the state's Democratic attorney general would defend the law if it was challenged.
The move to abolish and replace the University of Louisville's board of trustees comes after the school's accrediting body placed it on probation for one year over concerns of possible "undue political influence." Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said the move would restore the racial and political balance on the board. He touted a letter from the president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education that said the legislation would most likely satisfy the accrediting agency's concerns and end the school's probation.
Democrats disagreed. Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has sued Bevin over the issue, said the Republican supermajority "shockingly approved the governor's illegal order." State Rep. Kevin Sinnette called the legislature's vote "malfeasance."
"I don't know how you can look at yourself in the mirror if they lose their accreditation," he said.