Frankfort, Ky. – Liquor and labor were the subjects of the first three pieces of legislation the state Senate passed during its current session, according to a report from Legislative Research Commission.
Legislation (Senate Bill 11) that would make a host of changes to the state’s 1930s-era liquor laws passed by a 29-8 vote on Thursday. The omnibus bill would raise the amount of packaged alcohol that could be sold at distilleries to nine liters from the current three liters. It would also increase the size of samples handed out at distilleries to 1.5 ounces from the current 1 ounce. Both provisions are designed to promote “bourbon tourism.”
As many of the state’s bourbon titans watched from the chamber’s upper gallery, Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, described how the bill would strengthen one of the state’s signature industries.
“You hear it said all the time: Government needs to just get out of the way and let industry work,” said Schickel, a primary sponsor of the bill. “And we really need to get out of the way of this bourbon industry and let it soar. If you go anywhere around the world someone will ask you about Kentucky bourbon.”
Senate Democratic Whip Julian M. Carroll of Frankfort said he has six distilleries in his district drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists a year to the area.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, challenged the bourbon titans to invest in Eastern Kentucky, whose economy has suffered because of a loss of coal mining jobs. In addition to opening distilleries, Stivers suggested that the distillers invest in cooperages, places that make the wooden barrels where bourbon is stored while aged.
“We have one wonderful resource in the east that is not carbon related and that is timber, white oak” he said. “I ask these icons who have asked us to help their industry … to help Eastern Kentucky by investing in that region of the state.”
The other liquor legislation (Senate Bill 12) acted upon on Thursday would allow liquor sales at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta before 1 p.m. on Sundays. It passed by a 28-8 vote with one Senator abstaining because of a potential conflict of interest. The primary sponsors of SB 12 where Carroll and Schickel.
The legislation was conceived after inclement weather in 2013 forced the speedway’s marquee event, a Saturday night NASCAR Sprint Cup race, to be ran on a Sunday – a day where alcohol sales are currently prohibited until 1 p.m.
Legislation (Senate Bill 9) that would exempt school and university construction projects of $250,000 or more from the state’s prevailing wage laws also prompted lively debate on Thursday. Despite some vocal opposition, it passed the Senate by a 26-vote majority.
“We decided to focus on educational facilities for two reasons,” said Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, a primary sponsor of the bill. “One being is that there is already precedence in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As you may recall, from 1982 to 1996, there was an exemption for these buildings.”
He said the second reason was a recent study that found prevailing wage requirements increased labor costs from a sample of school projects by 51 percent relative to what labor costs would have been had workers been paid the same rate they are on private construction projects.
“Passage of this bill will greatly save the commonwealth money,” said Schroder, a primary sponsor of the bill.
Democratic Floor Leader Ray S. Jones II of Pikeville was one of 11 Senators who voted against SB 9.
“We hear a lot of talk about the decreased costs associated with appealing prevailing wages,” Jones said. “But what we do know, is when contractors bid on prevailing-wage jobs, they can’t bid on the back of construction workers. If this bill passes, it would affect approximately 75,000 construction workers.”
He said states that have rolled back prevailing wage laws have seen an increase in injuries and deaths of construction workers who were working for less money and benefits.
The three bills now move to the state House of Representatives for consideration.