Ky Politics Distilled: Legislature Joins Bevin's Fight Against Beshear

Mar 10, 2017

This week in Kentucky politics, the president of the Senate filed a bill that would strip powers from the attorney general’s office and give them to the governor.

As the legislative session winds down, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether a charter schools bill will pass and if it does, what it will look like. And reports that President Trump would visit Louisville this week were walked back…but Vice President Mike Pence WILL be coming.

Capitol reporter Ryland Barton has this week’s edition of Kentucky Politics Distilled.

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers proposed an amendment to a bill this week that would strip the attorney general’s common law powers. With some exceptions, the attorney general would no longer be able to file lawsuits or appeals on behalf of Kentuckians—instead, the governor would be in charge. Stivers says his legislation clarifies who represents the state’s interests. 

“Someone has to have the designation as the individual who represents and voices the opinion of the state. And that should be the institution of the chief magistrate and the governor, which is the governor.” 

There are deep political implications to this measure. First of all, current Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear has repeatedly challenged Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in court over the last year. 

The state Supreme Court ruled that Bevin didn’t have the authority to make current-year budget cuts to higher education institutions. And a trial court ruled that Bevin had overstepped his authority in abolishing the University of Louisville trustee board and replacing it with a new panel of his own appointees. 

But also, the Republican-led legislature has accused Beshear of not defending the state’s new anti-abortion laws vigorously enough. Stivers says the AG’s opinion does not represent the state. 

“I’ve got a problem with the attorney general’s office expressing an opinion as if it is the state’s opinion.” 

Beshear said he would not defend the state’s new law banning abortions after the 20th week in pregnancy if it were challenged, calling it unconstitutional. He has moved to have the lawsuit against the state’s new ultrasound abortion requirement dismissed—Republicans say Beshear has just been trying to get out of the lawsuit. 

Beshear called the bill an unprecedented “power grab” and said it would grant the governor a “get out of jail free card.“

Do I believe that this is being pushed from the governor’s office? Yes I do. Some of the language that you heard today form Senator Stivers is the same language we’re seeing in pleadings from the governor down to the specific words.” 

Lawmakers have also been trying to hammer out a compromise on a bill to allow charter schools in Kentucky, but time is running out. There are only four more working days in this year’s session. 

Senate Education Committee chair Mike Wilson says there are still issues that need to be “cleaned up” in the bill that would have to be resolved by next week. 

“I anticipate there probably would be agreement on the bill but again, I can’t be 100 percent on it. I feel pretty confident that we will end up with a charter school bill.” 

Wilson says one of the issues still on the table is whether to move forward with a statewide charter bill or limit the schools to a pilot program in certain areas. 

Sen. Gerald Neal, a Democrat from Louisville, says a pilot version of the bill would allow the state to develop its own policies, instead of only relying on best practices from other states. 

“You can’t just take something someplace else and put it somewhere and all the sudden it’s going to work. It has to almost be home-grown. You have to adapt to the realities of where you are.” 

Finally, after some confusion, Vice President Mike Pence will be visiting Louisville on Saturday morning. He’ll be trying to rally support for President Trump’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act—a plan which U.S. Sen Rand Paul has opposed. 

Earlier in the week, some news outlets reported that Trump would be coming to Kentucky, but White House officials walked back that claim. 

That’s it for your distilled rundown of the news out of Frankfort this week. For the Kentucky Public Radio Network, I’m Ryland Barton.