Kentucky Senate passes bills dealing with abortion, medical malpractice, prevailing wage

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FRANKFORT, Kentucky — Kentucky Senate Republicans passed bills dealing with medical malpractice and the prevailing wage in a flurry of action Thursday that drew objections from Democrats.

The measures — dealing with issues targeted by Republicans for years — could face long odds in the Democratic-led House in the coming weeks of the legislative session that ends in March.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones II accused majority Republicans of ramming through bills without giving Democrats and the public enough time to review the measures.

"The people of Kentucky deserve an explanation from the majority party as to how this furthers the interest of democracy," said Jones, D-Pikeville.

Afterward, Senate President Robert Stivers said the complaints by Democrats "ring somewhat hollow."

"As long as it's their bill, they don't mind what goes on," Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters.

Stivers said Democrats used Senate rules to benefit themselves years ago when they were in the majority.

"They used to do some things that treated us much worse," he said.

Lawmakers returned to the Capitol this week after a three-week break, and Senate Republicans on Thursday continued their fast pace of passing bills.

One measure clearing the Senate would exempt school construction projects from the state's prevailing-wage law. Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said his bill would ease construction costs for school districts.

"When you're dealing with million-dollar projects, this adds up quickly," he said.

The savings would spur more construction projects, providing more jobs for construction workers, he said.

Opponents said the bill, which passed on a 24-12 vote, would lead to pay cuts for construction workers.

Jones said the bill amounted to "another slap at the working men and women of this commonwealth."

Another bill that passed the Senate on a 24-12 vote on Thursday would set up a panel of medical experts to review proposed medical malpractice claims against health care providers.

The three-member panels would review all the medically relevant material and provide a nonbinding medical opinion within six months.

Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a physician from Winchester, said the reviews would not delay or deny a plaintiff's access to court. The reviews would add a "layer of accountability" to limit baseless claims, he said.

"Right now Kentucky has one of the nation's most litigation-friendly environments, making our commonwealth a prime and profitable target for personal injuring lawyers preying upon our health care providers," he said.

In opposing the bill, Jones disputed claims that the legal climate is discouraging doctors from coming to Kentucky. Jones said the review panels would be "no different than the fox guarding the henhouse."

The Senate passed another bill that would require doctors to perform ultrasounds prior to abortions. Doctors would have to describe what the ultrasound procedure shows to pregnant women.

Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams of Louisville said the bill deals with an important women's health issue. The measure passed on a 31-5 vote. Similar bills passed the Senate in the past but stalled in the House.

Doctors failing to comply with the bill would face fines of up to $100,000 for a first offense and up to $250,000 for subsequent violations.

The bill was heard in committee earlier in the day. Derek Selznick, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, called it an attempt by politicians to interfere in doctor-patient relationships.

"This bill is nothing more than a state-mandated guilt trip, designed to keep Kentucky women from seeking abortions," he said.

He said similar laws elsewhere have been struck down by courts.

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