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Louisville Metro Chamber Priorities Likely Under GOP Leadership

Kevin Bratcher holds papers at desk during committee meeting.
Legislative Research Commission
Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, presents House Bill 3, a bill geared toward juvenile justice reform before the House Judiciary Committee.

As Republicans assume a new majority in the upcoming legislative session, the Louisville-area chamber of commerce wants the Kentucky General Assembly to pass legislation long stymied by Democrats.

Greater Louisville Inc. says they want new laws that make Kentucky more attractive to businesses looking to expand in or relocate to Kentucky, while at the same time opposing "any discriminatory legislation or regulation."

The list of priorities includes so-called “right-to-work” legislation, repealing the prevailing wage, allowing charter schools in the state and limiting medical malpractice lawsuits.

The chamber also says it’s in favor of the governor’s proposal for comprehensive reform of the state’s tax laws, and wants to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow local governments to raise the sales tax by one percent to fund public works projects.

“Kentucky’s tax structure is complex, it’s not competitive, it hurts companies that choose to stay here, just as much as it deters outside businesses from locating in our region,” said Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, chief operating officer for Greater Louisville, Inc.

The Takeover

Republicans turned a 53-47 Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives into a 64-36 GOP advantage on Election Day, when all 100 seats in the chamber were up for re-election. The contests were a sea change in Kentucky politics, which Democrats had dominated for most of state history.

But now, for the first time, the GOP has control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion.

Many of GLI's proposals have been priority pieces of legislation put forth by the Republican-led Senate in past years — legislation that was blocked while Democrats still had control of the House.

One such proposal is “right-to-work” legislation, which would forbid businesses from requiring employees to pay union dues in order to have a job at the company. Proponents of the policy say companies looking to relocate pass over Kentucky because it doesn’t have a “right-to-work” law, while neighboring Indiana, West Virginia and Tennessee do.

“We have no idea how many businesses have bypassed our commonwealth due to this factor,” Davasher-Wisdom said.

Another proposal would reform medical malpractice lawsuits. In past sessions, advocates have proposed creating “medical review panels” that would review malpractice claims before they ended up in court and weed out claims deemed to be “frivolous.”

Scott Jennings, a GOP operative and partner at Runswitch PR, said the medical malpractice proposal might come in the form of a constitutional amendment that caps how much in damages a plaintiff can sue for.

“I think medical review panels is great, but that was sort of in an environment where some kind of compromise had to be reached with people who don’t want any tort reform and now we don’t really have that environment anymore,” Jennings said.

Proponents of the legislation say it would make Kentucky more attractive to doctors and healthcare companies. Opponents say it would curb patients’ ability to recover damages from malpractice incidents.

Constitutional amendments need to be approved by two-thirds of each legislative chamber. Republicans will have more than two-thirds of seats in both chambers during the next two legislative sessions.

Republicans have also long pushed to repeal the prevailing wage — a higher pay rate for construction laborers who work on state projects — and allow charter schools — schools that use public dollars but are operated by nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies or groups of parents and teachers.

Both policies also have a good chance of passing during the upcoming session.

Matt Erwin, former spokesman of the Kentucky Democratic Party, said that beyond “pro-business” policies, the new majority in Frankfort will push for socially conservative legislation.

“The new Republican majority wasn’t elected from Louisville, frankly it wasn’t elected from the business community, generally speaking," Erwin said. "It was elected from a group of social conservatives that want to see some things that might not be good for this city.”

Republican leaders have tamped down expectations that GOP lawmakers would push for a “religious liberty” bill or legislation to limit abortions during the upcoming legislative session, which will be shorter than sessions in even-numbered years.

“We’re going to have to focus on economic development; jobs is what we’re gonna have to focus on,” Senate President Robert Stivers said, according to WKMS.

“I don’t know if this is the appropriate time to take up a very broad-based social issue because we have to get people working again while we have this opportunity," said Stivers.

London Republican Rep. Al Robinson, who has pushed for religious freedom and anti-abortion bills in past sessions, said he’ll propose the legislation again but would leave it up to party leaders to set priorities.