As this session of the General Assembly winds down, its recurring theme has been the transfer of power to those who already have it.
The dramatic rush of legislation in early January produced the new Republican majority’s crown jewel, a right-to-work law weakening the labor unions that represent Kentucky workers.
Since then, there’s been a steady redistribution of power and influence to those who already enjoy power and influence, from those who have much less of both.
Victims of nursing-home negligence and medical malpractice lost power to the nursing home and medical industries and will now have to go through “medical review panels” before taking their complaints to court.
Coal miners are losing to the operators of unsafe mines as a bill progresses that would result in fewer state mine-safety inspections.
Workers in chain restaurants lost to corporations that are being relieved of responsibility for wage, hour, health, safety and other violations affecting their franchises’ employees.
Kentuckians will lose part of the public highways to longer, heavier trucks as a favor to the poultry, aluminum and trucking industries (though Kentucky’s short-line railroad industry is also losing).
School districts will be allowed to employ certain relatives of school-board members as lawmakers dismantle historic anti-nepotism rules piecemeal.
And women — especially low-income and rural women — will have less access to safe, legal abortions as a male-dominated legislature imposes even more constitutionally questionable barriers. At the same time, bipartisan legislation that would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations, such as breaks or unpaid time off, to pregnant or breastfeeding workers got nowhere.
The legislature’s new Republican majority is making Kentucky a guinea pig to test the theory that lowering wages and taking away Kentuckians’ rights will produce a better, more prosperous state.
In doing so, the new Republican majority is also carrying out the agenda of an organization founded and funded by the Koch brothers (who have plenty of power, influence and money) that opened shop in Kentucky in 2014. Americans for Prosperity does not report how it spends its money or where its money comes from. It does not give directly to candidates, but there’s no doubt its independent spending was a factor in last fall’s elections when Republicans won the House for the first time in almost a century and also in Gov. Matt Bevin’s victory in 2015.
Kentucky’s legislature and governors have long been captive to monied interests, most notably road builders and other state contractors.
This session is the first in which lawmakers have owed so much to out-of-state interests.
This session’s redistribution of power eventually will manifest itself in lawmakers’ hometowns and across their districts. They can pat themselves on the backs if, indeed, their constituents become more prosperous, healthy and safe as a result of their actions. If that’s not how it works out, however, voters will have to make a strong statement to be heard above the siren song of dark money.