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Stivers looks for bipartisan cooperation on anti-drug, telecommunications bills in 2015


OWENSBORO, Kentucky — Republicans in charge of the Kentucky Senate will reach out to the Democrat-controlled House for bipartisan agreement next year on bills to combat heroin and dating violence, but may also pursue some proposals with more partisan flavor aimed at government regulations and workplace unions, Senate President Robert Stivers said Thursday.

The GOP expanded its Senate majority in last month's election while Democrats retained control of the House. That division of power loomed over a retreat by Senate Republicans ahead of the 2015 legislative session. The abbreviated session, lasting 30 working days, begins in January.

Asked about his top priorities, Stivers talked about differentiating between what can realistically pass and what he would like to see become law.

"I would like to see a total reform in the regulatory system, the taxing system," Stivers told reporters. "I would like us to be a right-to-work state. ... When you go to a site locator's meeting, one of the first questions that will be asked is, 'Are you a right-to-work state?'"

Stivers, R-Manchester, acknowledged that proposals to prohibit mandatory participation in a workplace union and to rein in regulatory oversight are likely to encounter opposition from House Democrats. But he said Senate Republicans might press ahead with those issues.

"Just because we don't think the (House) speaker and his colleagues will pass it, doesn't mean that we won't send it to them to consider," he said.

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, mentioned one GOP-backed proposal aimed at governmental regulatory reach that could resurface next year. That proposal would put restrictions on the governor's power to issue regulations deemed out of step with lawmakers' wishes.

"We felt like 138 members were better suited to have final authority over regulations ... as opposed to one unilateral decision coming out of the executive branch," Bowen said Thursday.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said his 2015 legislative priorities will include raising the state's minimum wage and ensuring gender equity in the workforce.

In putting together their agenda, Senate Republicans want to make sure there are "apolitical" issues too, such as efforts to combat heroin abuse and dating violence, Stivers said. Another proposal would aim to encourage investments by telecommunications companies to upgrade services in underserved rural areas, he said.

Kentucky lawmakers meet for 30-day sessions in odd-numbered years and for 60 working days in even-numbered years. Stivers said the 30-day sessions can still produce meaningful results in what are non-election years for lawmakers.

"It's fast, intense but can create the opportunity — since we're not in an election year — to take some knotty issues and solve them," he said.

Leaders in both chambers have listed legislation to curb heroin abuse as a top priority in 2015. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said Thursday the priority for Senate Republicans boils down to "prison for dealers and treatment for addicts."

"Now that people see it spreading throughout the state, there's a consensus that we've got to act," Thayer said. "Now the devil's in the details, but we've got to send the message to the drug traffickers that Kentucky, for their business, is closed."

Thayer said the agenda for Senate Republicans won't be shaped by the 2015 race for Kentucky governor, but it could foreshadow the priorities that a GOP governor might pursue. Next year's race to succeed two-term Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear looks to be wide open.

"You could easily say that the agenda we ultimately pursue is the kind of agenda a Republican governor would support and ultimately sign those bills into law," Thayer said.

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