Kentucky Politics

On the final day of the legislative session, state lawmakers overrode Gov. Andy Beshear’s line-item vetoes to the state budget and revenue bills, all measures that he said would limit his ability to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats have criticized the bill for limiting how Beshear’s administration would be able to transfer federal funds between various state agencies.

Rep. Steven Rudy, a Republican from Paducah and chair of the House budget committee, said that if the governor needs more flexibility moving money around, the legislature needs to be included in the process.

“We have given him very, very much leeway in being able to operate state government in these uncertain times, but we cannot give him absolute authority because that would be tyranny,” Rudy said.

Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat from Whitesburg, said the restrictions will hinder Beshear as he responds to the pandemic.

“It’s never been limited, so why would it be limited now?” Hatton said. “While no one is suggesting utter and complete power to the governor, these are extraordinary times.”

The Republican-led legislature easily overrode all of Beshear’s vetoes. Unlike Congress, where it takes a two-thirds majority to override a president’s veto, it only takes a simple majority to override a Kentucky governor’s veto.

Several of the items Beshear attempted to veto from the state budget and revenue bills grant more powers to Kentucky’s Republican constitutional officers.

Those measures will give Attorney General Daniel Cameron final say in interpreting the budget bill, giving Treasurer Allison Ball oversight of travel on the state aircraft and requiring Beshear to get approval from Secretary of State Mike Adams if he wants to change how elections proceed during the state of emergency.

The budget is mostly a continuation of Kentucky’s recent spending habits and will only last for one year instead of the normal two years.

That’s because lawmakers have little idea of how Kentucky’s economy will fare during the coronavirus pandemic, how much less money from tax revenue will come in, and how much federal assistance the state will receive.

The state House of Representatives rushed to pass a bill that attempted to lay the groundwork for reopening Kentucky’s economy from coronavirus restrictions, though it never received a vote in the Senate, killing it.

Senate Bill 136 would have allowed chiropractors to reopen for business as long as they followed CDC guidelines and required Kentucky’s licensing and regulatory boards to submit recommendations for reopening some businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, dozens of protesters gathered outside the state Capitol on Wednesday to protest Beshear’s emergency restrictions that have closed much of the economy during the pandemic.

Beshear said Kentucky’s coronavirus cases are still steadily increasing and the state can’t risk opening non-essential businesses.

“Folks, that would kill people, it would absolutely kill people. We know we’re not to that point,” Beshear said.

The next regular legislative session begins in January 2021, though Beshear has said the coronavirus pandemic might force him to call lawmakers back into session this year.

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