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Representative Dennis Keene Legislative Update January 9, 2017

Representative Dennis Keene Legislative Update January 9, 2017

By State Representative Dennis Keene

During the first few days of the 2017 legislative session in the Kentucky General Assembly, I fought hard d to protect the interests of Kentucky’s working families against a rising tide of wealthy corporate interests, but in the end, our best efforts were blocked by the new ruling majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives. A dangerous precedent has been charted by rushing legislation that deserved thorough vetting without any bipartisan support. This week will go down in Kentucky history as one of the most damaging to working people.

Never before in modern times has a legislative session been used to do so much harm in so little time with so few opportunities for public input or debate. No time was wasted by Republican majorities in the House and the Senate to repeal prevailing wage standards in the construction of public projects and to enact what I call “right to work for less” legislation. These measures – affecting thousands of working families in Kentucky – passed despite our strong objections and repeated attempts to slow the process long enough to let the voices of the people be heard during the legislative process.

Numerous studies and overwhelming data show workers’ wages go down when so-called “right to work” legislation, is passed. There’s a long list of other ills associated with right to work states – less health insurance coverage, poor workplace safety records, and less per capita spending on education, to name a few.

Repealing prevailing wage standards also lowers wages for building and tradesmen, like electricians, pipe fitters, plumbers, and steamfitters employed in public construction projects. These repeals also negatively affect the quality of construction and encourage out-of-state, fly-by-night contractors with employees of questionable training, skills and citizenship.

Supporters argue that these measures encourage investment in the Commonwealth and lower construction costs on public projects, thus creating new jobs and saving tax dollars. But what they won’t tell you is that bringing low-paying, low-skill jobs into Kentucky will actually raise public spending and increase dependence on social programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and free lunch programs at public schools when workers are no longer able to pay their bills or feed their families. In short, right to work and the repeal of prevailing wage amounts to state-sponsored corporate welfare with only those at the top reaping the benefit at the cost of working people.

In another rush job, Senate Bill 12 cleared the General Assembly at lightning speed, attempting to remedy a situation Governor Bevin created when he re-arranged the board of trustees for the University of Louisville. It’s a quick and questionable fix that may do the University more harm than good by risking loss of accreditation and millions of federal education dollars in student financial aid and research grants, while also diminishing the value of the degrees U of L awards. The damage may not be contained to U of L and may spill over into accreditation problems for Northern Kentucky University and every public college and university in the state, including prohibitions on those colleges’ participation in NCAA sports.

These bills were passed and rushed to the governor’s desk for his signature after a highly unusual Saturday session. All these bills carry emergency clauses and will become law when he signs them.

At this point, there’s not much else we can do except to say that we will hold responsible the architects of a process that would result in passage of important, complex legislation in the first five days of a 30-day session with only minimal public input and deliberation.  Part of the responsibility of a minority party in a legislative body functioning as the “loyal opposition” is to ask questions and make comments that create a record of accountability on the part of those whose decisions will in all likelihood negatively impact the lives of thousands of working Kentuckians.  We hope to have lived up to that responsibility this week.

If you’d like to contact those responsible for this harmful legislative agenda, you can reach the governor’s office at (502) 564-2611; new House Speaker Jeff Hoover’s office at (502) 564-5855 and Senate President Robert Stivers at (502) 564-2450.  It might be helpful to reference in the particular bill number in your call — House Bill 1 (right to work); House Bill 3 (repeal of prevailing wage); and Senate Bill 12 (University of Louisville reorganization).

And please let me know what you think needs to be done to improve the lives of working people by calling the legislative hotline toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 and leaving me a message. You can also reach me at [email protected].

We’ll be in recess until February 7th, when we will reconvene in Frankfort. I look forward to returning to my district in Campbell County in the meantime to get your ideas on how best we can move Kentucky forward after these dramatic changes. Please know that through all of this, I am truly honored to serve as your representative and will continue to fight for your interests and those of the 93rd House District.