- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kentucky used their new majority in the state Legislature to pass bills targeting labor unions and abortion on Saturday over the shouts of hundreds of protesters that packed the cavernous Capitol.

With chants of “we will remember in November” seeping through the closed doors of the state Senate, lawmakers gave final passage to a bill saying employers cannot force workers to pay dues to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining. They also repealed a law guaranteeing higher wages for construction workers on publicly financed projects. And they voted to require a woman seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound and listen to the fetal heartbeat.

All the measures were sent to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

In the House, lawmakers took final action to ban labor unions from using dues or fees to make political donations. They agreed to open up lawmaker retirement benefits to open records requests.

They were set to debate a bill Saturday afternoon that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy with no exception for rape or incest. They also plan to approve a bill to abolish and replace the board of trustees at the University of Louisville, a move Republicans say will rescue it from probation but Democrats warn was reckless and placed the value of student degrees at risk.

While lawmakers historically have used the first week of the legislative session to organize themselves before taking a monthlong recess, Republicans used their new supermajorities in both chambers to push through decades’ worth of proposals that had been stalled by the Democratic majority in the House. They called a rare Saturday session to send the bills to Mr. Bevin, who has pledged to sign them. All of the bills contain an emergency clause, meaning they take effect immediately.

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins called the record pace “dangerous.” But Republican Senate President Robert Stivers called it “a signal that Kentucky is going to do differently than it has in the past.”

“We are going to try to create an environment that creates jobs that help Kentucky families,” he said.

Hundreds of protesters filled the Capitol, carrying signs and chanting so loudly that Mr. Stivers ordered the Senate doorkeepers to keep the doors shut to muffle the noise. Most of the protesters were union workers dressed in brown overalls and boots while carrying signs that criticized “the suits” in the Legislature.

Mike Hickey, a 54-year-old insulator from Louisville, compared the bill banning mandatory union dues — known as “right-to-work” — to someone attempting to enjoy Louisville’s famous Valhalla Golf Club without paying a membership fee.

“It’s just not fair. Why should they reap the benefits of union wage and benefits and not pay the same as everybody else?” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones said the bills were designed to punish labor unions for supporting Democrats by weakening their finances and diluting their bargaining power. But supporters say the bill is business friendly and would attract much-needed jobs, with Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, noting Kentucky is the only southern state that has not passed a right-to-work law.

“It is not the job of government to create jobs,” Thayer said. “It is the job of government to create an environment where businesses large and small, locally owned or nationally owned or internationally owned have an incentive to create jobs.”

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