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Senate Tackles Prevailing Wage, Alcohol Sales In First Actions

The Kentucky Senate has passed its first bills of the 2016 session, a measure targeting prevailing wage and two bills drafted to update antiquated alcohol laws and buoy the state's burgeoning bourbon industry.

Credit Josh James / WUKY

Wage Wars

Public works projects costing more than $250,000 carry an added requirement in Kentucky: workers must be paid what's called "prevailing wage,"  an amount set by state or federal labor agencies that varies by region. Thursday Senate Republicans moved to scrap the requirement for school-related projects.  At the center of much of the debate is whether the guarantee reliably translates to higher quality construction.

"Do you want undocumented folks building these buildings? Do you want people who aren't specifically trained?" House Speaker Greg Stumbo asked.

"No one has questioned the workmanship. What they have questioned is legitimate costs," Senate President Robert Stivers later told reporters.

While Stumbo maintains under prevailing wage not one material defect has been reported in school facilities, Stivers cites a complaint filed on a municipal project  in his hometown that resulted in a $90,000 assessment despite the rule. Wage critics see the exemption as a way to ease the financial burden on strapped local school districts.

The bill appears dead on arrival in the Democratic-led House.

Credit Kentucky Distillers Association

Bourbon On Top

The bourbon industry is praising the first bill passed out of the Kentucky Senate in 2016 - a sweeping measure crafted to loosen restrictions on alcohol sales and aid brewers and wineries in meeting the growing worldwide demand.  Senate Bill 11 sponsor John Shickel told his colleagues many of the provisions are minor, but taken as a whole the legislation could be transformative.

"We're just struggling to keep up with all the changes that need to be made," the Union Republican said. "You know you hear it said all of the time, government needs to get out of the way and let industry work, let industry soar. And we really need to get out of the way of this bourbon industry."

Among other items, the bill triples the amount of packaged alcohol distilleries can sell, allows bed and breakfasts to sell liquor by the drink, and permits alcohol on quadricycles, also known as party bikes. Critics worry upping alcohol sales at distilleries could backfire on small retailers.

In addition, the Senate passed a separate measure permitting major sports venues to serve drinks beyond the normal hours.

Copyright 2016 WUKY

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now known as Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and Program Director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.