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April 12, 2017 4:34pm

2017 General Assembly: A Win for the Business Community

The 2017 General Assembly represented the unknown in many ways. For the first time in over 90 years, Republicans took control of both legislative offices and the Governor’s mansion in Kentucky.  GLI had high hopes for the shortened session, but even we were surprised by the amount of progress. Priorities that have long been on the wish lists of many GLI investors for decades have been signed by the Governor.  At GLI everything we advocate for helps to further economic growth; simply put, that is what we are about and there is no doubt this session was one of the most successful we have seen by that standard.

The obvious, immediate wins in Frankfort were the rapid movement of Right-to-Work, repeal of Prevailing Wage, and authorization of Charter Schools in Kentucky.  These bills will dramatically alter the competitive landscape of our Commonwealth and cannot be understated.  Other states that have enacted similar measures have seen growth multiply exponentially and we are about to witness the same.

Major changes were also made to the legal climate this session that will positively impact growth. The passage of Medical Review Panels (SB 4) is an important first step in a broader tort reform effort. SB 4 will cut down on frivolous lawsuits and lower malpractice insurance costs.  This will help us attract health care providers, thereby improving access to care for Kentuckians.  The Appeal Bond bill (HB 72) will deter frivolous appeals that have stalled economic development projects such as the West End Wal-Mart.  New business and infrastructure throughout the state will now be able to develop within a legal system that is fair to all. A 2015 National Labor Relations Board decision had also created unfair legal exposure for franchisers and Kentucky has now joined 9 other states by passing the Joint Employer bill (SB 151).  This legislation means Kentucky franchisees will retain full control of the day-to-day operations of their businesses. Other bills that will improve the legal climate lower the rates on judgement interest (HB 223), better define liability for landlords and tenants (HB 112), and much more.

Refinancing the KFC YUM! Center is a pragmatic move that will save the taxpayers of Kentucky money in the long run thanks to the TIF Extension (HB 330). The final version of HB 330 is fiscally responsible by permitting the arena authority to take advantage of lower interest rates with significant savings through the life of the bond. By extending the time period to collect revenue from 20 years to 45 years, we make sure one of our region’s greatest venues does not default on its bond payments. We thank the Governor, Arena Authority, and House and Senate leadership for championing this effort.  We were proud to help advocate for this important measure.

Other measures that positively impact growth may not have made as many headlines.  Thanks to years of successful advocacy by GLI and entrepreneurs in the Greater Louisville Region, Kentucky joins 31 other states in allowing the formation of Public Benefit Corporations (HB 35) which enables companies to consider a clearly defined public benefit in addition to profit. This bill will give business owners a greater choice in how their businesses operate while attracting investment and talent to the Commonwealth.

The legislature not only passed important pro-growth measures, but it also kept Kentucky on the growth trajectory by inaction on two bills that would have been detrimental to our burgeoning business climate.  Economic data from other states has proven that religious freedom bills and bathroom bills hinder employers from attracting top talent and hamper the state’s efforts to attract new, innovative businesses, along with vital conventions and sporting events.  GLI opposed these measures in 2017 and we will continue to do so if proposed in future years.

Meanwhile in Indianapolis the session does not end until late April; however we have seen important steps taken on our regional priorities.  GLI once again lobbied in partnership with One Southern Indiana for creation of a Trans-border Water Resource Authority (HB 1211).  The Water Authority measure is forward thinking because we have seen other states in prolonged, expensive legal battles over water resources and this bill takes steps to avoid that. After six years, HB 1211 passed the House and Senate with unanimous support.

While much progress has been made during both legislative sessions this year, there is still much to be done.  Kentucky’s tax climate remains one of the least competitive in the nation and our pension shortfall continues to be a stain on our credit rating.  We look forward to working with Governor Bevin’s administration and the Kentucky General Assembly on solutions that will foster growth.

In any other session, one or two of these wins would have been a massive victory, but not in 2017. In just a few months Kentucky has transformed into a more business-friendly environment that will prove to be a catalyst for growth and we have seen great progress across the river. We will be documenting all of the wins and missed opportunities for the business community in the coming weeks; rest assured though, expectations were high, but results far exceeded them.