Members of the Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce received an update on the recent legislative session from 82nd Rep. Regina Bunch during the chamber’s monthly membership luncheon Tuesday afternoon at the Cumberland Inn.
Bunch, who recently completed her sixth legislative session, said that the most meaningful piece of legislation passed during the session was “right to work” legislation, which means employees aren’t required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment at a business.
“This was a major hurdle for us,” Bunch noted. “I don’t think there is anything we could have done better for our state.”
Since January 2017, Bunch noted that 53 companies have announced they are opening new businesses or expanding existing ones in Kentucky investing $5 billion in the commonwealth.
She noted that all the credit for these companies opening in Kentucky can’t be attributed to “right to work,” but that it did help.
One specific example she noted is a $1.3 billion aluminum processing facility that will open in Eastern Kentucky that will employee 1,000 temporary workers.
The company, which will be in Greenup County, will employee 550 full-time people, who will have an average annual salary of $70,000.
“The chairman/CEO of that business said we were clearly chosen because we had implemented the ‘right to work’ policy,” Bunch said.
Other recent announcements include a $1.3 billion expansion by Toyota in Georgetown, and construction of a new cargo hub in Northern Kentucky by Amazon that will create 2,700 new jobs.
Bunch said that being in the super majority for the first time is a big difference for Republicans, who spent much of the first couple of days of the session figuring out exactly how to govern.
Some Republican legislators had been in the General Assembly over 20 years without passing any legislation, she added.
Bunch noted that there are various hurdles for the 82nd District that includes all of Whitley County and a few precincts in Laurel County.
Some of those include low job fair participation and the drug problem.
“The drug situation is just a vicious circle and cycle. We have got to figure out something besides taking them to rehab and plucking them right back down in what we pulled them out of. You cannot succeed if you go back to your old area and your old ways,” she added. “We are looking at ways to make rehab more successful.”
Personal legislative victories
Bunch noted this was a session that was particularly special for her because she passed her first legislation, House Bill 350, that calculates veterans’ time of service and qualifications.
Bunch had a second bill, “T.J.’s Bill” that would have mandated young children wear bicycle helmets. The bill was named after a seven-year-old boy, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while riding a bicycle.
Pediatric neurologists noted that wearing a helmet is 85 percent effective in preventing traumatic brain injuries for children riding bicycles.
The bill passed the house but didn’t get a vote in the senate due in part to objections by motorcycle lobbyists and “nanny-state” objections that parents should have the right to decide if their children wear bicycle helmets.
“Just because they have an irresponsible parent doesn’t mean a child should have to suffer the rest of his life,” she added. “I will try it again next session because I am very passionate about it.”
During Tuesday’s luncheon, those in attendance also heard from Senture founder Bill Deaton.
Senture, a business support company, already has a facility in London, and earlier this year opened a facility in Williamsburg.
“I hope we can do the same thing in Williamsburg as we have done elsewhere,” Deaton said.
He added that he hopes to hire a total of 600 people at the Williamsburg facility by the end of August.
Deaton, who estimated he has hired 40,000 people during his lifetime, noted that the company already employs 1,500 people and he hopes to add another 800 additional employees by year’s end.
Deaton, who is from Eastern Kentucky, said one thing he learned a long time ago is that Eastern Kentucky has a lot of needs, including a lack of jobs and drug addiction.
“One of the things I think we need to understand is that the only solution that we have before of us is to do something to make a difference, each one of us individually,” he said. “A few people have to stand up in every area if we expect Kentucky to get back to where it once was … One of the things I always tried to do in life is make a difference.”