The Kentucky Capitol is covered in scaffolding for repairs, but inside another work is in progress as the GOP craft their new supermajority in the state House. On opening day of the 2017 legislative session, there was visible enthusiasm among Republicans.
"They basically have to build the House," Senate President Robert Stivers said. "They have to start with the foundation, which starts today."
Avoiding specifics, Stivers told reporters as many as 10 bills could begin moving through the upper chamber by week's end. But most of the attention Tuesday was directed at other end of the building, where Jamestown Rep. Jeff Hoover made history by becoming the first Republican to take the speaker's gavel in nearly a century. He said the election results revealed voters' desire for a new direction.
"The people are uneasy," Hoover announced. "The people have expressed their desire for change."
Reaching out to the new minority, Hoover pledged an inclusive and responsive approach. The promise, however, did not stop Democratic leaders from launching a prolonged floor debate over new rule changes they fear could negatively impact the 34-member minority's committee assignments. Democrats ultimately failed to muster enough votes to delay their adoption.
Admitting initiatives like her statewide smoking ban were likely dead under the current administration, Lexington Rep. Susan Westrom still had kind words for the new GOP speaker - calling him the consummate "Kentucky gentlemen." As for 2017, she predicting her party would continue to focus on issues affecting the working class, teachers, children, and healthcare.
"Sometimes those conversations get difficult, but that's life in Frankfort," she said.
Priority bills introduced in both chambers read like a long-delayed wishlist for Republicans.
House Bill 1, the chamber's top legislative concern, would make the commonwealth a "right-to-work" state. Meanwhile, the Senate will revisit 2016's stalled education overhaul with Senate Bill 1. Other measures introduced Tuesday include changes to the prevailing wage and the state's abortion laws. A 20-week abortion ban filed by Hazard Republican Sen. Brandon Smith, could also see early action.
While the House and Senate will officially convene for just 30 days, Gov. Matt Bevin appeared confident the GOP's lock on state government will translate to a highly productive session.
"Expect this to be a legislature that gets more done in any given week or month or session than has been done in any given decade in any of our lifetimes," he said. "Mark my words on that."