Kentucky Politics

Kentucky lawmakers voted to override most of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes on the second-to-last day in this year’s legislative session, securing the passage of several conservative laws and shifting power from the governor to Republican officeholders.

Beshear vetoed all or part of 27 bills during the 10-day veto period that ended last weekend.

But Republican legislators easily overrode Beshear’s actions, doubling down on bills weakening open records laws, limiting worker safety rules and barring Beshear from spending federal coronavirus aid.

They also overrode Beshear’s vetoes of the state budget bill: zeroing out funding for the Commission on Women, freezing new mine safety inspector positions and giving Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, not the governor, final say on lawsuits over the budget.

In the House, Republican leaders limited discussion on votes to five minutes per side, speeding up a normally drawn-out process of questions and debate on a series of complicated bills.

House Democratic Leaders Joni Jenkins, Derrick Graham and Angie Hatton criticized the move as “appalling.”

“These bills will have a profound impact on all Kentuckians, and giving us just five minutes to debate each vetoed bill — including the state budget, incredibly — is not good government, it’s not transparent government, and it’s not the type of government Kentuckians need and deserve,” they wrote in a statement.

Lawmakers passed some bills on Monday that didn’t make it across the finish line ahead of Beshear’s veto break, including the omnibus election reform bill and a measure censoring personal information of some government officials like police and prosecutors.

Lawmakers still have one more day to pass bills before their deadline at the end of Tuesday, but they won’t have the chance to override any more vetoes issued by Beshear.

High-profile bills still waiting to be taken up include measures limiting no-knock warrants and giving subpoena power to Louisville’s new police oversight board.

Here are some of the bills vetoed by Beshear, but were overridden by the legislature on Monday.

Open Records

The legislature overrode Beshear’s veto of House Bill 312, the bill weakening Kentucky’s open records laws. It would restrict records requests from people who live out of state and make the legislature, instead of a court, the final arbiter of its own records decisions.

Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian said that Republicans were openly attacking the state’s open records law.

“House Bill 312 allows the legislative branch to judge for itself which records should be produced in an open records request, with no ability for a citizen to appeal that decision — kind of like the fox watching the hen house,” Marzian said.

The McConnell Bill

Senate Bill 228 changes the way Kentucky governors replace U.S. Senators who leave office before the end of their 6-year terms.

The bill requires governors to pick someone from the same party as the departing senator — ensuring that 79-year-old Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would be replaced by a Republican if he decides to leave office before 2026.

McConnell has reviewed the bill and said he supports it.

Bowling Green Democratic Rep. Patti Minter said the legislature wouldn’t be considering the bill if Kentucky had a Republican governor.

“It’s a blatant power grab, and it’s something that strikes right at the heart of what people dislike about the political system,” Minter said.

Weakening Worker Safety

Lawmakers overrode Beshear’s veto of House Bill 475, which blocks Kentucky’s Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission from having safety regulations that are more strict than federal regulations.

Rep. Steve Rudy, a Republican from Paducah, said that workers will be adequately protected by federal rules.

“This bill does not eliminate any programs, it just says that the state plan cannot be more stringent than the federal,” Rudy said.

Rep. Al Gentry, a Democrat from Louisville, said sometimes Kentucky needs to have state-specific worker safety rules.

“This is going to lead to less accountability in the workplace, it’s going to lead to more workplace accidents and eventually more workplace deaths,” Gentry said.

Kentucky is one of 28 states that operates its own occupational safety program.

Water Bill Late Fees

Under House Bill 272 water districts will be allowed to charge 10% late fees despite the state’s moratorium on late fees during the pandemic.

Supporters of the measure say it would help rural water districts trying to get people to pay water bills during the pandemic.

Rep. Michael Meredith, a Republican from Oakland, said rural districts are struggling.

“This just makes sure we don’t have one person making a decision that affects the entire state in a way that can put a burden on many of these small rural water districts where they couldn’t serve their communities as a whole in the future,” Meredith said.

Rep. Josie Raymond, a Democrat from Louisville, said the measure is misguided because late fees don’t always encourage people to pay bills.

“If poor people don’t have money, they’re not paying whether there’s a late fee or not. I think we’d all agree that 10% is steep,” Raymond said.

Budget

Beshear issued 20 line-item vetoes to the $12 billion state spending plan, including language blocking Beshear from spending federal coronavirus relief aid, eliminating funding for the state Commission on Women and forbidding state employees from enforcing Beshear’ emergency orders.

In his veto message, Beshear said the provision could make the legislature subject to contempt of court, referring to his ongoing lawsuit against several bills passed earlier this year.

Rep. Felicia Rabourn, a Republican from Turners Station, said Beshear was “threatening” the legislature.

“It’s disgraceful and we are not intimidated. If I had it my way we would impeach him of this flagrant violation of legislative immunity,” Rabourn said.

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