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Kentucky Chamber Of Commerce President Advocates For Taxing Vaping Products, Sports Wagering In 2020

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Liam Niemeyer
/
WKMS

  Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ashli Watts says reforming the state’s pension system, investing in infrastructure and early childhood education, and curbing tobacco use are some issues that state business leaders believe could have bipartisan solutions in next year’s legislature.

Watts made her comments at a local chamber of commerce breakfast in Murray on Wednesday. She said she wants the state’s business owners to learn from this year’s teacher protests in Frankfort, and that the “collective voice” of teachers made a difference in last month’s gubernatorial elections.

“I’m a little bit jealous that there are thousands of teachers that can pack the capitol for an issue they really believed in and cared about, and I can’t get the business community to do that,” Watts said. “I think it just shows the strength that we have...that if we find a cause that we believe in, that we really want to advocate, that we’re singing from the same hymn book, what we could if we all worked together.”

Watts said the various legislative priorities the Chamber of Commerce wants to advocate for in 2020 include tax reform, criminal justice reform, shaping the state budget, and sports wagering. Governor-Elect Andy Beshear campaigned this fall on potentially legalizing sports wagering and casino gambling to help fund the state’s pension system. 

Watts said her organization is prioritizing support for sports wagering because the Republican-controlled legislature may not approve of casinos.

“The chamber historically has been for expanded gaming, and that includes even a couple of years ago a push for casino gaming,” she said. “The reality is, is that the legislature has said ‘right now, that’s not going to happen.’ We are not going to have casinos in Kentucky. So what we as a chamber try to do is we try to be pragmatic.”

Watts said the organization will also be pushing to tax vaping products to potentially discourage use among young people while also bringing in revenue for the state. She said this is similar to how tobacco products are taxed to discourage smoking.

“Lately, we know about the epidemic that is vaping. It’s a new product. No one knew how to tax it. But now that we know better, we should do better. We know this is causing substantial harm to our young people,” Watts said.

Watts spoke earlier this week in Hopkinsville and will speak to Paducah business leaders Thursday.

 

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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