FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Republicans released years of pent-up frustration Thursday, flexing the power of historic majorities in both chambers of the state legislature to push through bills targeting labor unions, abortion and lawmakers’ pensions.
The House and Senate approved a series of bills less than 72 hours after convening their legislative session. Those proposals were part of the Republican agenda for years, only to be blocked by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.
But this year, Republicans have super majorities in both chambers, clearing the way for them to pass an aggressive agenda over the objections of Democrats.
“I had to go out to my car and get my seat belt,” said Democratic Rep. Darryl Owens, complaining about the unprecedented speed of the legislative actions.
In the House, Republicans approved a measure making it illegal to require workers to pay union fees to keep a job. And they passed a bill to repeal the state’s prevailing-wage law, which sets a minimum wage for workers employed on public construction projects.
The bills now go to the Kentucky chamber for consideration. House and Senate leaders were considering convening a Saturday session to pass the bills before a three-week recess.
“These bills that are passing both chambers today are a reflection of years of work and preparation for this day,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer. “The voters delivered a mandate … and we feel a commitment to them.”
Hundreds of union workers filled the Capitol on Thursday, holding noisy rallies. Union workers packed the gallery overlooking the House floor, alternating between applause and boos.
The most passionate debate in the House was reserved for a bill making it illegal to force workers to pay dues to a labor union. The bill would make Kentucky the 27th “right-to-work” state, joining every other state in the South. Opponents said the bill would weaken labor unions, reducing their bargaining power and leading to lower wages. Supporters said the bill is needed to attract more jobs to Kentucky.
The debate was deeply emotional. State Rep. Chris Harris held up a piece of scrip that coal companies used to pay his grandfather, currency that could only be used in the company store. Democratic state Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville went further.
“God must be creating a huge addition to Hell to accommodate the forces behind this kind of legislation,” he said.