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Mayor Fischer Is Circumspect On 2017 General Assembly Work

Mayor Greg Fischer
Mayor Greg Fischer at WFPL's studios last year.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer doesn't have much to say about the 2017 General Assembly, which concluded last week after a flurry of activity.

With control of Frankfort, Republicans ushered in a broad conservative agenda during the 30-day session, bringing fundamental changes in education, labor and abortion access in Kentucky.

In an interview on Monday, Fischer offered little reaction. He noted that legislators brought "a lot of action, obviously, for a short session," but otherwise didn't expound on concerns or praise for the legislators' efforts.

Instead, he focused on Louisville and local efforts to bolster the economy and keep unemployment rates down.

"We just need to keep our momentum going," he said.

Some measures that will likely impact Louisville, though it's unclear just how, include authorization of charter schools, the repeal of the prevailing wage and the so-called right-to-work law, which eliminates compulsory union membership.

Fischer will have the authority to dictate who and where charter schools are established in Louisville. He, along with the Jefferson County Board of Education, will be the sole authorizers of charter schools in Louisville.

Fischer didn't discuss charter schools when asked for his reaction to the General Assembly. But he expressed support for them when the bill was nearing a vote earlier this year, surprising many on the school board.

And last month, WFPL News detailed Fischer's unique ties to school choice advocates and charter school supporters — relationships that drew criticism from local education leaders.

Fischer often touts the $9 billion being invested in the city through development projects. Some of those projects, like the $300 million Omni Hotel and Residences downtown, have elements of public funding and fall under the prevailing wage law, which lawmakers voted earlier this year to repeal. Projects already underway would not be affected by the change.

Some experts in the fields of labor and development said repealing the prevailing wage could undercut productivity on projects and open the door for shoddy craftsmanship.

"It's not the American way," said Jeff Hudepohl, the president of Valley Interior Systems. His company was awarded a $9.4 million contract to hang drywall and metal studs on nine floors of the luxury Omni.

Fischer said he's heard no such concerns from "the folks behind any of these projects."

So-called right to work legislation will prohibit unions from requiring people to pay dues as a condition of employment. The measure was a cornerstone of Gov. Matt Bevin's agenda during his 2015 campaign, when the governor argued such a move would attract businesses to the state.

When he signed the bill into law, Bevin posted a video to his Facebook page saying the measure "will mean incredible new opportunities for the Commonwealth of Kentucky."

Opponents say otherwise.

Mike Mullis, a site selection consultant, told the Ohio Valley ReSource earlier this year that right-to-work laws don't necessarily guarantee more projects, but they can bring opportunity.

For his part, Fischer said his administration is focused on growing and improving the city's workforce.

"Employers tell me all the time, it's the skills they're looking for," he said. "We're doubling down on workforce development."

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.