- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A top Republican lawmaker conceded Friday that GOP-backed legislation to ban labor unions from requiring employees to join them is unlikely to get a vote in the Kentucky House this year.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover said many of his Republican colleagues aren’t showing a willingness to make a concerted push for “right-to-work” legislation to make union membership optional.

“It’s just not something that’s really on the top of our priority list right now,” Hoover told reporters.

Across the Capitol, Republicans in charge of the state Senate listed the issue as one of their main priorities. Their right-to-work bill is still awaiting a Senate committee hearing.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin campaigned last year on making Kentucky a “right-to-work” state, saying it would make the state more competitive in trying to lure business.

Advocates for right-to-work laws suffered a setback this week when a federal judge invalidated Hardin County’s ban on mandatory labor union membership as a condition of employment.

Amid the stalemate on statewide right-to-work legislation, a dozen Kentucky counties passed their own local versions. But Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge David Hale ruled that only state governments can opt out of a federal law that allows closed shop or agency shop agreements that require employees to join a labor union or pay union dues regardless of whether they are union members.

Democratic lawmakers typically defend the agreements, saying they lead to higher wages and a more secure workforce. Republicans say the agreements are a disincentive for companies to come to the state and hire workers.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said Friday that the judge’s ruling underscores the need for Kentucky lawmakers to deal with the issue.

“It gives more impetus to the need to pass a statewide right-to-work law,” said Thayer, R-Georgetown.

The Democratic-run House has long blocked right-to-work legislation. On Friday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said such a bill doesn’t have “a snowball’s chance” of passing the House.

House Republicans have used procedural motions to try to force House votes this year.

But Hoover downplayed the use of such maneuvering for a right-to-work bill or another Republican-backed bill to exempt public school projects from the state’s prevailing wage.

The prevailing wage bill, which cleared the Senate, was defeated by a House panel Thursday.

“Most of our caucus does not believe that right-to-work or prevailing wage are bills that we want to move forward on at this time,” Hoover said. “We understand the makeup in the House.”

Meanwhile, Hoover said Friday he plans to keep pushing for an eventual House vote on legislation that would put Planned Parenthood clinics last in line for family planning funds.

Hoover offered a motion Thursday to give the bill its first House reading, in hopes of accelerating action on the bill. His motion was approved with some Democrats backing it.

Hoover said Friday he plans to make another motion next week to give the measure its second reading, leaving it one step away from getting a House vote.

“We’re going to try to push it,” he said. “It’s an important issue.”

Stumbo said the bill needs vetting in committee. He said there are concerns the measure could jeopardize funding for services such as cervical cancer screenings at the clinics.

“We shouldn’t rush to judgment on matters that may have unintended consequences,” he said.

The bill would set up a three-tier priority system for distributing federal family planning funds, with Planned Parenthood in the bottom category. The measure also says no state or local funds would be given to clinics such as Planned Parenthood in the bottom category. It would not affect Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, the bill’s supporters said.

Tamarra Wieder, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, said the legislation “is extreme and puts women’s lives and health in danger in the name of politics.”

“The women and men who turn to us don’t do so to make a political statement - they do it because they need health care,” Wieder said.

The bill comes amid a dispute between Planned Parenthood and Bevin’s administration about whether Planned Parenthood was authorized to begin providing abortions at its Louisville clinic.

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