Kentucky Politics

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed several bills on Wednesday afternoon, including a Republican education measure that sets new requirements for how teachers talk about race and U.S. history in the classroom.

Beshear also rejected bills that would ban transgender girls from participating in middle school through college girls and women’s sports, give the state’s Republican attorney general exclusive right to challenge state laws using taxpayer money and reshape governance of the state’s largest city.

Legislators are in the middle of a break during this year’s lawmaking session while Beshear considers signing or vetoing bills.

The governor’s 10-day “veto period” began last Thursday and will continue until next Wednesday, when lawmakers return for the final two days of the session to consider overriding vetoes or passing any last-minute bills.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Beshear still hadn’t acted on controversial bills dealing with the state budget, abortion restrictions, charter school funding or tightening requirements for public assistance.

But there’s still plenty of time for the Democratic governor to consider how to respond to the Republican-led legislature’s priorities.

If Beshear doesn’t sign or veto bills by April 13, they will automatically become law without his signature.

Here’s some of what Beshear has signed or rejected at this point during the veto period.

Vetoed:

Senate Bill 1 would ban teachers from connecting the dots between modern-day racial disparities and historical institutions like slavery and Jim Crow, saying that doing so is “destructive to the unification of our nation.” It would also require teachers to use 24 historical documents and texts in their lessons, including Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech, in which he rails against welfare programs.

Additionally, the bill would reshape how schools hire principals and set curricula, shifting power from local School Based Decision Making Councils to school superintendents.

In his veto message, Beshear said the bill would be a “step backward” for education in the state, by shifting power away from teachers and parents who make up SBDMs. He said other portions of the bill attempt to police discussions about race.

“Prescribing a rigid approach to what must be ‘taught’ in those discussions will lessen if not erase them. For the future of our country, American children and adults must be able to exercise their First Amendment rights and have important discussions free of government censorship,” Beshear wrote.

Senate Bill 83 would ban trans girls from participating in middle school, high school and college girls and women’s sports teams. In his veto message, Beshear said the bill likely violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and pointed to vetoes of similar legislation in Indiana and Utah.

“Transgender children deserve public officials’ efforts to demonstrat that they are valued members of our communities through compassion, kindness and empathy, even if not understanding,” Beshear wrote.

House Bill 248 would make Kentucky’s attorney general the only statewide officer with power to use taxpayer money to challenge a state law. The bill is the latest effort from the Republican-led legislature to limit the Democratic governor’s power, especially after he sued to block bills clipping his authority during the coronavirus pandemic.

In his veto message, Beshear called the bill an “unconstitutional power grab.”

House Bill 314 would reduce the number of terms the mayor of Louisville can serve from three to two and also dramatically change the structure, and possibly geography, of the city. The bill would allow new independent cities to be incorporated within Jefferson County, a maneuver that was banned after the city merged with the county in 2003. It would also allow existing independent cities to annex more territory.

In his veto message, Beshear said legislators were usurping local control from Louisville citizens.

“Indeed, those outside of Louisvlile who support this bill should think twice, because it sets a terrible precedent under which the General Assembly could turn around and aim similar disruptive actions at other local governments,” Beshear said.

Beshear vetoed House Bill 388, which empowers the state treasurer to make final decisions on some state contracts and tax incentives. Currently the legislature’s Government Contract Review Committee can recommend canceling contracts, but the state’s Finance Cabinet secretary, a member of the governor’s administration, can overrule the decisions. Under the new measure, the secretary’s decision can be appealed to the treasurer, an office currently held by Republican Allison Ball.

An example of how this bill could change things in Frankfort: the Contract Review Committee threatened to cancel contracts with California companies as retribution for that state banning official travel to Kentucky over anti-LGBTQ issues. However, those attempts didn’t proceed because they were tamped down by Beshear’s administration.

In his veto message, Beshear said the bill violates the state constitution be giving contracting authority to the treasurer, “rendering the Governor no longer ‘supreme.’”

A similar measure passed out of the legislature last year but was blocked by Franklin Circuit Court on procedural grounds. Supporters hope this year’s version of the bill will be upheld, though the court never ruled on the constitutionality of the measure.

Earlier in the year, Beshear vetoed several bills, and the legislature quickly voted to override his actions. 

Signed:

Beshear signed a bill allowing houses of worship to sue state and local governments for restricting services during states of emergency. House Bill 43 was filed in response to Beshear’s actions early on in the coronavirus pandemic, when he imposed crowd restrictions and business closures, including churches, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. The ACLU opposed the bill, saying “it could be construed to provide unprecedented criminal and civil immunity for religious organizations.”

Last week Beshear signed Senate Bill 8, which is intended to combat child abuse in the state. The measure broadens the rights of children in foster care, providing access to records once they turn 18 and allowing them to request placement where they feel safe and accepted.

Beshear also signed House Bill 397, which waives up to 15 school days for districts affected by December’s tornado outbreak. Supporters of the bill said it’s necessary to make sure students and teachers don’t have to stay in school into the summer to make up attendance or fulfill contracts.

Vetoed, but overridden by the legislature

House Bill 4, which cuts unemployment insurance benefits.

Senate Joint Resolution 150, which ended the pandemic-related state of emergency, costing Kentucky about $50 million in federal food assistance.

And House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3, the redistricting bills for all 100 seats in the state House of Representatives and all six of Kentucky’s congressional seats. The Kentucky Democratic Party sued to block those bills and a trial is ongoing in Franklin Circuit Court.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.