Kentucky Politics

The Republican-led Kentucky General Assembly will return to work on Tuesday after a three-week respite in this year’s legislative session.

The top of the legislature’s to-do list includes writing a new state budget, overriding Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes and deciding what to do with citizen impeachment petitions filed against the governor and other officials.

Over the next two months, lawmakers will also consider bills that would change pension benefits for new teachers, ban LGBTQ conversion therapy and make the criminal justice system more equitable.

But the main requirement will be to pass a new $12 billion state spending plan as Kentucky continues to face financial uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers are required to adjourn by the end of March and have adjusted the legislature’s calendar to intersperse unofficial “drafting days” among the 30 regular working days of this year’s session.

Veto Overrides

Republicans have signaled they will override Gov. Andy Beshear’s six vetoes of bills that passed during the first week of this year’s legislative session.

Most of the bills curtail Beshear’s powers and give more oversight to the legislature, especially during states of emergency.

Beshear also vetoed House Bill 2, giving Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron the authority to regulate abortion providers and, and House Bill 3, a GOP effort to move lawsuits against the state out of a court district they consider to be unfriendly.

Beshear has called on lawmakers to compromise and not pass bills limiting his powers until after the coronavirus pandemic.

After Beshear issued his vetoes, House Speaker David Osborne said Republicans were still waiting to “determine whether the Governor is sincere in his desire to work with us.”

It’s very easy for the legislature to override a veto in Kentucky—it only takes a majority of members in the state House and Senate. Republicans have dominant majorities in both chambers.

Impeachment

The Kentucky House Impeachment Committee continued to gather during the January break, though meetings were largely held in private and little information was provided on how the special panel would handle citizen impeachment petitions filed against Beshear, Cameron and Republican Rep. Robert Goforth.

The committee was formed after the House received a petition from four citizens seeking to impeach Beshear for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the time, Republican House Speaker David Osborne said all impeachment claims needed to be taken seriously and took the unusual step of forming the special committee.

Since then, the panel has received petitions against Goforth, for allegedly strangling and assaulting his wife last year, and Cameron, who has been accused of misleading the public about the Breonna Taylor case.

The committee hasn’t publicly addressed petitions filed against the Republicans yet. Beshear and Cameron provided official responses to the complaints.

Budget

The main thing lawmakers have to do during this year’s legislative session is pass a new state budget for the financial year that starts on July 1.

The legislature normally passes two-year budgets, but changed the process last year after the coronavirus pandemic created questions about how much tax revenue the state would bring in, how much federal assistance the state would get and how much it would cost to respond to the unprecedented state of emergency.

Though so far the state hasn’t taken the financial hit budget writers worried it would, Kentucky’s outlook still remains uncertain.

Beshear unveiled a budget proposal last month including a long wish list of education funding increases, overhauling the state’s unemployment system and direct payments to businesses and people struggling during the pandemic.

But with 75% of seats in the legislature, Republicans will be in the driver’s seat of the budget writing process and little is known about what their plan will look like. So far the legislature has only advanced a “placeholder budget,” which continues state spending at the same level over the past year.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.