A flurry of bills passed Saturday on topics as diverse and controversial as abortion, prevailing wages and right-to-work has caused a divide among Kentucky Republicans and Democrats.
The state legislature passed seven bills during a rare Saturday session. It took just hours for the legislature to repeal the prevailing wage law, ban mandatory labor union dues and prevent those dues from becoming political donations. The general assembly also banned abortions after 20 weeks and required ultrasounds before the procedure can be done.
Now, parties are split on whether the bills should have been passed so quickly.
Democrat Arnold Simpson, a state representative from Covington, said he doesn’t think the way the bills were passed aligns with how the public wants their business conducted.
“It’s like a blitzkrieg like in war,” Simpson said. “They had a goal — they had a plan — and they instituted it.”
Republican Wil Schroder, a state senator from Wilder and head of the Northern Kentucky Caucus, said Kentuckians are tired of seeing gridlock in Frankfort.
“...This week they saw that we went down there — and the Republicans were able to get the work done that they expected us to get done,” Schroder said. “They should hold us accountable, and so far I think we’re doing a good job.”
Simpson said he thinks the bills would have passed anyway if they had gone under the normal protocol, but he was concerned that they were passed so quickly in this case that it narrowed the opportunity for input.
“I think it’s important for everyone to understand both the pros and the cons of a given issue before you vote on it,” Simpson said.
But Schroder said there shouldn’t have been any surprises with respect to the legislation.
“Most of the bills that we voted on had been seen in last sessions,” Schroder said. “Many of the issues were issues we saw this past election cycle that house members ran on. So, there really weren’t any surprises.”
Opinions split on laws that will impact prevailing wages, unions
The Republican-controlled House and Senate also repealed a law Saturday that required prevailing wages be paid on projects like Northern Kentucky University's Health Innovation Center, a multi-million dollar facility funded partially by the state.
Now, the state will no longer be able to set the prices of publicly financed projects.
Dave Baker, business manager for Ironworkers Local 44, called the bill “horrible.”
“They didn’t cut the engineer’s salary,” Baker said. “They didn’t get any breaks on the material cost. It’s less than 20 percent what the labor costs are on the project, and the only guy that gets hurt is the guy with the tool in his hand.”
But Trey Grayson, CEO of Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the change will be beneficial for the state’s economic growth.
“We think there will be developments now in Northern Kentucky, and throughout the rest of the state that wouldn’t have been here before,” Grayson said.
He said now the lowest bidder on a project will be awarded the contract, and he thinks that is good thing for Kentuckians.
“Now, it’s a market rate,” Grayson said. “When the bid is placed, it’s what any other project would require from a construction standpoint. So, this is going to become better for taxpayers because we’ll be able to build either bigger buildings or cheaper buildings and that’s good news, too.”
But Baker doesn’t see it that way. He said the changes will prompt out of town contractors to scoop up local jobs.
Grayson said the workers on jobs now will be the same workers who will shape the region’s future.
The legislature also passed a bill that made Kentucky the 27th right-to-work state, which means employees cannot be forced to join a union at a workplace.
Bevin signed all of the bills Monday. They had emergency clauses, so they became effective immediately.