Kentucky Politics

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has vetoed several bills that would limit his powers during the coronavirus pandemic and give the legislature more power during states of emergency.

The Republican-led legislature passed the measures earlier this month following months of frustration that state law gives the governor power to unilaterally handle emergencies without seeking the counsel of the 138-member General Assembly.

During his daily briefing on Tuesday, Beshear said that he vetoed the bills because they would make it harder to enact policies that save lives.

“This would hamper our ability to make the decisions that have us having less people die per capita than all of our neighbors,” Beshear said. “Do any of us want to see this trend reversed?” 

The legislature can easily override Beshear’s vetoes once they go back into session on Feb. 2. Republicans have commanding control of both the state House and Senate and it only takes a simple majority of votes to override a veto in Kentucky.

Beshear said he hopes to sit down with lawmakers to hammer out a compromise on the legislation, including requirements to consult the General Assembly during states of emergency.

“Let’s create formal requirements of what that looks like and the timing that it has to occur during one of these,” he said.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne said he was disappointed by the vetoes, and will “reserve comment until we determine whether the Governor is sincere in his desire to work with us.”

“After all, ten months of unilateral decision-making and unchecked spending has provided evidence otherwise. We approach any collaboration with a commitment to ensuring that the voices of Kentuckians across the state are heard,” Osborne wrote in a statement.

Here are the five bills Beshear vetoed on Tuesday:

Senate Bill 1 would limit the governor’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature. This would effectively force the governor to call lawmakers in for a special session if he is seeking a renewal after the legislature has adjourned in the spring. It would also require the governor to seek approval from the state attorney general before issuing orders that suspend statute.

In his veto message, Beshear said the measure is unconstitutional and “would severely limit Kentucky’s ability to respond to emergencies like this pandemic, putting lives at risk.”

Senate Bill 2 would give the legislature more oversight and require public comment on emergency administrative regulations, another method Beshear used during this year’s pandemic.

In his veto message, Beshear said the bill is unconstitutional because it would “allow interim legislative committees to amend regulations with the force of law.”

House Bill 1 would allow businesses and schools to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic as long as they follow CDC guidelines, though lawmakers have been unclear about which guidelines would have to be followed.

Beshear said in his veto message that CDC guidelines are “not written for or intended to be written into law, they can be contradictory, vague, and in some instances more restrictive than current state rules.”

House Bill 2 is not coronavirus related, but would give the attorney general power to regulate abortion providers in the state, a power that currently resides in the state health cabinet. Current Attorney General Daniel Cameron is anti-abortion and has advocated for passing the bill.

In his veto message, Beshear wrote that the “Office of the Attorney General does not have the expertise or the necessary structure to directly regulate medical procedures or health care providers.”

In a statement on Twitter, Cameron said the bill would give his office “authority to hold abortion providers accountable to the law.”

“Whether abortion providers follow the law isn’t political, and it shouldn’t be up for debate,” Cameron said.

“Abortion providers should be required to live up to the statutes adopted by our General Assembly, and it’s my hope that the legislature will override this veto.”

House Bill 5 would limit the governor’s ability to reorganize state boards and cabinets.

Beshear said in his veto message that the ability to revamp boards and cabinet structure is a “necessary tool” for the governor and that the measure would prevent him from faithfully executing laws passed by the legislature and Congress.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.