By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
The two chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly passed their top legislative priorities Thursday — a bill to increase the minimum wage by House Democrats and one to give lawmakers power to overrule gubernatorial regulations by the Republican Senate.
Both measures are expected to face tough sledding in the other chamber, although House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, hinted that favorable treatment by one chamber of the other’s bill might produce reciprocal treatment.
Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, but designated the chamber’s top priority by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, passed 24-14 along party lines. House Bill 1, Stumbo’s bill to raise the minimum wage in Kentucky from $7.25 to $10.10 over three years, passed 54-44 with four members of each party breaking rank with their leadership.
Four Republicans — Dwight Butler, C.B. Embry, Jim Stewart and Jill York — voted with the majority Democrats while two Democrats — Bob Damron and Fitz Steele — voted against the increase. Democrats Jim Gooch and Susan Westrom passed.
The House debate lasted for over two and a half hours, with Democrats saying it is necessary for a “living wage” while Republicans said it is a “job killer” and an unfunded mandate on local governments and school districts.
Stumbo said raising the minimum wage would have “an immense effect on the working women in Kentucky trying to raise a family,” noting that 70 percent of Kentuckians making the minimum wage are females, more than half of them over the age of 22.
Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, cited data from the legislature’s top staff economist that the increase would result in the loss of 13,800 jobs and talked about testimony in committee by Tom Greer of the Greer Group which operates Cheddar’s Restaurants who said the increase might bankrupt his business.
Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello, said the increase would put Kentucky small businesses at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states with lower minimum wages. Republican Whip John Carney, a school teacher, said the increase would cost the three school districts he represents between $28,000 and $100,000 over three years.
Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, made an impassioned plea for those on the bottom of the income scale, appealing to the consciences of his colleagues, telling them to “look into the eyes” of mothers who shop in thrift stores to clothe their children and “have the same dreams for their children as we do for our children but they don’t know how they can make them happen.”
Stumbo characterized the Republican argument as: “The sky is falling. The sky is falling. Lord help me, the sky is falling!”
Then referring to the last time the minimum wage was increased in Kentucky in 2007, Stumbo said the sky didn’t fall and noted that many of the Republicans arguing against his bill voted for the 2007 increase. He said Republican opponents manipulated the numbers they cited and quoted the New Testament about the treatment “of the least of these.”
Those on minimum wage “get up and go to work every day and they work hard. We ought to be able to do something to help them.”
After the vote, Stumbo was asked if the fate of SB 1 — the bill to allow lawmakers to override the governor’s regulations at any time during the year — might be tied to the Senate’s treatment of the minimum wage bill.
“I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily the case,” said Stumbo, smiling. “But I would assume favorable treatment down here of SB 1 might lead to favorable treatment down there for HB 1. That’s the way it usually works.”
SB 1 would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to override any regulation by the executive branch at any time throughout the year. Presently, a committee of eight lawmakers can find such regulations “deficient,” but the governor may implement the regulation anyway.
The General Assembly can overturn the regulation only when it convenes and with majority votes of both chambers.
Republicans have been highly critical of Gov. Steve Beshear’s implementation of regulations adopting Common Core Standards for Kentucky schools and governing implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.