Republicans flexed their new legislative muscle Wednesday, sending long-sought-after bills blocked in past sessions by Democratic House majorities out of committee and onto the larger chambers.
Abortion opponents in the Kentucky House moved post-haste this week, passing House Bill 2 out of committee on only the second day of the 2017 legislative session. In less than an hour, the measure requiring physicians to present ultrasound results to any woman seeking an abortion gained the approval of the House Judiciary committee over the frequent vocal objections of ACLU and Planned Parenthood supporters.
"What about the constitutional right of the unborn child to seek life?" Lexington Republican Stan Lee asked the agitated audience. "Who's speaking for them? I'm going to speak for them."
Bill backers argued the measure only provides more information for women, but opponents, like University of Louisville student Katie Martin, viewed it as an attempt to push patients away from the procedure.
"We need to go toward the other way of trusting people to make their own decisions, freedom, and providing support to people so that... the laws are equitable across the board," Martin told WUKY.
While the bill appears on track for passage by both chambers, ACLU Advocacy Director Kate Miller says her organization is reviewing language in this bill and others, including a separate 20-week abortion ban recently filed in the Senate.
"We've seen a lot of these measures defeated in other states when there has been an undue burden placed on women, so it really comes down to that question of just how far these bills are going to go," she said.
Legislation turning Kentucky into a "right-to-work" state also took its first step toward the governor's desk Wednesday.
More than 100 union members and supporters sandwiched into the hallways of the Capitol Annex in the hopes of persuading lawmakers to abandon campaign promises to make Kentucky right-to-work, or banning membership in a union or the paying of union dues as a condition for employment.
"The worker's voice is under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back," the crowd chanted.
Demonstrators were largely excluded from the hearing because the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity had booked the room prior to the meeting, leading to testy exchanges outside. Gov. Matt Bevin engaged with a handful of protesters over the commotion, but exited to boos from the group.
Inside, Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan made their case.
"Right-to-work is simply a clever slogan that is designed to undermine union resources and effectiveness, and damage labor's political and legislative effectiveness, public image, and union solidarity," he told lawmakers.
But defenders remain confident right-to-work will attract more businesses to the state. Jim Henderson is the County Judge-Executive in Simpson County, which was the second Kentucky community to pass its own local right-to-work law. He said companies pay attention to the designation when scouting locations.
"They identify this as either a characteristic of a state or community that's pro-business or not as pro-business, and so it just eliminated us so many times from being considered," he said.
The bill now goes to the full House.