Kentucky voters demanded change when they went to the polls in November, placing the House of Representatives in Republican control for the first time in nearly a century. By granting GOP super-majorities for the first time in both the Senate and the House, Kentuckians made it clear that they were tired of business as usual in Frankfort.
As the General Assembly adjourned the 2017 Regular Session, legislators from both chambers had come together and kept their promises to pass meaningful bills that will strengthen Kentucky families and create Kentucky jobs.
The session began with the passage of a right-to-work law, which enables employees to negotiate their own wages and benefits rather than being forced to pay to join a labor union. The lack of such a law previously placed Kentucky at a competitive disadvantage when attracting new businesses. Since the right-to-work law was enacted, we have already seen significant investments in our commonwealth from major companies that will provide numerous new job opportunities across the state.
We are optimistic that more of these big investments will follow. It was just recently announced that Braidy Industries would invest over $1 billion in Eastern Kentucky by building a 2.5 million-square-foot rolling aluminum mill near South Shore. This investment is expected to provide approximately 550 new jobs with an average annual salary of $75,000.
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We, as a legislature, authorized Gov. Matt Bevin to issue $15 million in bonds to incentivize this project. Braidy CEO Craig Bouchard said that the legislature's approval of a right-to-work law factored into the company’s decision.
Further protecting Kentucky families, the legislature also passed two pro-life bills as the first measures sent to Bevin this year. One promotes informed consent by requiring an ultrasound to be conducted before an abortion procedure can occur. The other bill places a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, unless medically necessary, which is the commonly accepted time of when a baby can feel pain.
These new laws seek to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.
We passed legislation establishing charter schools to better prepare our children for the future. Charter schools are public schools that fill gaps where students are not being reached with traditional methods. Counties can only implement charter schools if it is the will of their local school board.
We felt that parents should have the choice to decide if a charter school would better fit their children’s academic needs, regardless of geography. Students from low-income households who often struggle to escape from poverty due to a poor educational environment stand to benefit the most from this policy.
Further education reforms were put into place through Senate Bill 1, which requires a review of academic standards in Kentucky’s public schools beginning next year and occurring every six years thereafter. It also provides revised benchmarks to enable our education professionals to better determine college and career-readiness.
We passed a bill to further combat the rapidly expanding war on heroin as House Bill 333. HB 333 was crafted to create strong penalties for trafficking heroin, fentanyl and other opioids. It also will give law enforcement extra abilities to fight what can only be described as an epidemic in our state.
Among several other significant bills were measures passed protecting our first responders, removing our state’s nuclear moratorium, funding a veterans’ nursing home in Bowling Green, and creating an enhanced driver’s license to comply with federal standards.
We believe this session has been a great success, and we fully expect that Kentuckians will benefit from these new laws in the immediate future.
As we now enter the interim period, our focus turns to the challenges of comprehensive tax reform, plans to address the burgeoning pension crisis, and crafting a responsible budget for our state. We look forward to addressing these challenges and making state government more responsible to the people we represent.
After all, when we work together, we achieve more. And, when we make promises to Kentuckians to deliver a better life, we keep them.
Robert Stivers is Senate president and Jeff Hoover is House speaker of the Kentucky General Assembly.