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Lawmakers rally around U.S.-made flags requirement

FRANKFORT — U.S. flags purchased by government agencies in Kentucky would have to be made in America, under a measure that is barreling through the state legislature.

Senate Bill 33 has sailed through two legislative committees and the Senate without a single "no" vote. It now heads to the House floor, where Speaker Greg Stumbo is predicting unanimous support. Gov. Steve Beshear also supports the measure and will sign it into law when it arrives on his desk, spokesman Jay Blanton said.

It's one of those rare bills that lawmakers of diverse political ideologies can get behind, said Joe Gershtenson, a political scientist at Eastern Kentucky University.

"It's a mom-and-apple-pie vote, and you don't go against those types of votes at the risk of being punished by the electorate," Gershtenson said. "If someone were to vote against this, it would be extremely problematic. You dare not."

International trade agreements pose problems for such movements at the federal level, but Gershtenson said individual states generally don't have those concerns.

"Who's going to retaliate against the state of Kentucky as a result of a measure like this? There's really no danger there," Gershtenson said.

Minnesota and Tennessee have passed laws similar to the one Kentucky is considering. State Sen. Gary Tapp, R-Shelbyville, sponsor of the bill, said it would affect both the U.S. and Kentucky flags.

"They ought to be made in the United States," he said. "It's just a small way of showing our patriotism."

When people rushed to show their sense of patriotism by buying U.S. flags after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, domestic manufacturers couldn't keep up with demand, opening the door for Chinese-made flags.

Foreign imports of American flags, worth about $1 million annually at the time, surged to nearly $52 million in the weeks that followed. Washington lawmakers took action, requiring the Defense Department to buy American-made textiles and the Veterans Affairs Department to use American-made flags for burials. And in the city where Congress meets, only U.S.-made flags fly over the nation's Capitol.

Still, more than 8,000 other federal buildings — courthouses, post offices, border stations and office buildings, among others — are under no such obligation. That's because the United States has gone to great pains to hammer out trade deals with other countries and can't impose new limits after the fact.

Tapp said he's pushing the Kentucky legislation in honor of military veterans, some of whom asked him to press his colleagues to try to ensure the stars and stripes in Old Glory are stitched by U.S. workers.

"They thought that was truly an injustice to them as soldiers and also as citizens of the United States, and I happen to agree with them," Tapp said.

Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, said perhaps no other legislation filed this year stands a better chance of being signed into law. In addition to patriotic sensitivities, the bill will help protect the jobs of American textile workers.

"Any time we can utilize the services of our manufacturing industry here in America, we ought to do so," Stumbo said. "I think it's a fine idea."