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Bevin Reorganizes Workers' Compensation Panel Again

J. Tyler Franklin

Gov. Matt Bevin has abolished and reorganized the Workers' Compensation Nominating Commission for the second time in just over a month, as a court decides whether he has the power to do so.

The commission nominates administrative law judges to the governor, who then appoints them to oversee workers compensation cases throughout the state.

Bevin abolished the panel in early May, terminating seven commissioners appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear before their terms ended. In response, a group of labor unions, injured workers and a former commissioner sued Bevin.

Last week, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Philip Shepherd temporarily blocked Bevin’s initial reorganization, forbidding the governor from appointing any new judges unless they were nominated by the old commission.

Shepherd called the executive order a “wholesale firing of duly appointed state officials” and that the move has “never been upheld by case law, even if such a tactic has been commonly employed by past governors.”

But Bevin maintains that there’s precedent for governors to reorganize commissions and says the move helps alleviate “pay-to-play politics” in the organization. Now, with the first reorganization still in court, the governor has abolished the commission once again and reestablished it as the “Workers' Compensation Nominating Committee,” which will have five instead of seven members.

The new panel would have two Democrats, one Republican and two attorneys with experience working on workers compensation cases. The next hearing in the initial reorganization case before Shepherd is scheduled for Monday, June 20.

The governor has similarly reorganized the Kentucky Racing Commission and the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, though those moves haven’t been challenged in court.