By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line
Ahead of a new political landscape with all Republican leadership in Frankfort come January, top GOP officials from the state House and Senate shared the stage at the Kentucky Chamber’s 2017 Legislative Preview Conference to talk about what will change in the coming years and their top priorities to move the state forward.
Kicking off the panel, House Majority Floor Leader-designee Jonathan Shell said the new atmosphere in Frankfort after Election Day is “overwhelming” as the Republicans took the majority in the state House with far more new members than anyone expected.
The 23 new GOP members of the House make up a third of the Republican caucus, which Shell said brings excitement as well as some challenges as there will need to be education on key issues to be done in a short amount of time.
Senate President Robert Stivers expressed excitement about the new Republican House with which the supermajority in the Senate will now be working saying it is “invigorating” that Republicans now have the momentum to address important issues that have been priority to them for decades.
As for what will get done with this new atmosphere, Senate Majority Damon Thayer stated that it is going to be important to manage expectations because there are so many key priorities they all want to get done but it can’t all be done at once.
Critical issues to the future of the state like addressing the problems in the woefully underfunded pension plans in the state and tax reform will be at the top of mind for the legislature and governor, President Stivers said.
Shell added that tax reform and pension reforms are critical to taking pressure off Kentuckians and grow the economy to help improve the business climate in the state to keep and attract businesses.
Thayer said it is likely that there will be a special session in 2017 to deal with tax reform and pension reform as they will only have 30 working days during the regular legislative session to get things done.
Constitutional amendments, like some legal liability reform issues and moving governors elections to the same years as presidential election years, Thayer said will likely not be considered in 2017 in order to declutter the agenda.
When asked if the legislature will be on the same page as the governor on many of these issues, Senate President Stivers said they are all focused on the same priorities but there could be some differences on the process, but he said everyone agrees on the direction and is excited for what comes next.
“I predict that when we Sine Die on the 2017 session, the business community is going to be very happy,” Thayer said, stating that the legislature will be focused on many of the Chamber’s priorities.
House Majority Floor Leader-designee Shell said under House Speaker-elect Hoover there will be a lot of positive changes.
The partisanship that has been seen in the legislature in years past, Shell said, will change under this new House leadership as they seek to include the minority party in the process.
Many of the things that the new leadership in the state plan to do, Stivers said, will help Kentucky finally compete with surrounding states like Tennessee that have been known to be far more business friendly.
Among the items they plan to tackle in 2017 are right to work, legal liability reform, pension reforms, repealing the prevailing wage and others, according to the leaders.
Shell said the legislature has a responsibility to make Kentucky better for the residents and businesses of the state. And the talent coming to Frankfort, Shell said, he feels will be able to make that happen.
“We absolutely want to change the state for generations to come. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to do that,” Shell said.
President Stivers said it is critical for the business community to be active in order to get these key pieces of legislation passed as the voice of business leaders will be incredibly important.
The support and advocacy of the Kentucky Chamber, Leader Thayer said, has been and will continue to be crucial for the accomplishment of these issues.
“Representatives need to develop a steel spine,” Thayer said, adding that there will be issues that members may want to vote but need encouragement. “The Kentucky Chamber can provide that.”
Among those issues discussed on Monday, charter school legislation which would provide parents and students with more opportunities in education. Leaders said they will be seeking a good bill that will bring charter schools to the state.
Advocating for the issue and giving members “cover” through support and education of the issues by the Chamber will be important to the passage of bills like charter schools, Shell said.
The panel said the goal of charter school legislation is to give more opportunity and prop up regions in the state that need help on education. As for the details of that legislation, the leaders said where the schools are placed and who authorizes the charters will be the key area of focus.
On justice reform, President Stivers said the place to start is with the education system and added changes to the criminal justice system can be expected soon as the number of dollars spent in that area continues to grow.
Closing the panel, Shell said he expects the headlines for the 2017 session will likely read “jobs, jobs, jobs” and “promises made, promises kept” as the new majority seeks to bring long-awaited change to Frankfort.
For more state government news go to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s The Bottom Line blog.