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Senate Republicans: Kentucky Is Ready For Conservative Priorities

Legislative Research Commission

Galvanized by Republican Matt Bevin's election as governor and a dwindling Democratic majority in the state House, Senate Republicans will this week decide 10 bills to prioritize during the upcoming legislative session.

The GOP has a 27-11 majority in the state Senate.

Though the official shortlist of bills hasn’t been made, on Wednesday GOP leaders said they’ll be pushing for a familiar collection of legislation for right-to-work policies, charter schools and tort reform. The 2016 session starts next month.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, said the election of Bevin bodes well on his caucus’ priorities.

“Now having a governor who won by nine points last month, we think that validates the policy stance that the Kentucky Senate has taken on so many issues for so many years,” Thayer said.

Senate Republicans will still have to contend with a six-seat Democratic majority in the House, which could prevent any bill from being sent to the governor’s desk.

But at a retreat in Maysville on Wednesday, the Senate majority leadership was confident that the House would buckle given the right prodding.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said he believes Democrats were already shifting their stance against charter school legislation.

“You’re going to see things like that out of the House because they understand the reality of good policy and how it then translates into politics,” Stivers said.

Republican leaders also said they would work to pass two anti-abortion bills that they have tried to pass for nearly 20 legislative sessions — one that would require women seeking an abortion to have face-to-face counseling with a doctor 24 hours before an abortion, and another that would require them to view an ultrasound before the procedure.

Thayer said that House Democrats will have to make policy decisions “at their own peril.”

“If they don’t pass these bills that have the wide support of the populace, they will suffer electorally,” Thayer said.

Republicans have already picked off one Democratic representative — last month Louisville Rep. Denny Butler switched his party affiliation, narrowing the House Democratic majority to 53 out of 100.

The main thrust of the upcoming legislative session will be crafting the state’s budget for the next two years.

Despite an estimated $242 million surplus at the end of the current fiscal year, budget crafters will have to find an additional $500 million to fund growing expenses in the state pension and Medicaid systems.

Greensburg Republican Sen. David Givens said he’s excited about going into a budget session with Bevin in office.

“I think that will influence not just the policies we push outside of the budget, but the way that we enter negotiations in that budget,” Givens said.

The governor-elect will have to make the first move in the budgeting process — he’ll draft a state budget proposal to present to the legislature in the weeks after he takes office on Dec. 8.

During his campaign, Bevin said the state will have to undergo "austerity measures" and "belt-tightening across the board," though he hasn't said which programs or offices he would seek to scale back.

(Featured image: Republican Senate President Robert Stivers and President Pro Tem David Givens, via the Legislative Research Commission)

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.