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Beshear vetoes change of venue bill, proposed Nuclear Energy Development Authority

Andy Beshear
J. Tyler Franklin
Andy Beshear

Kentucky’s governor announced a round of vetoes Thursday regarding change of venue legislation, nuclear energy and more.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear says he’ll veto legislation that would allow any lawsuits over the constitutionality of Kentucky laws, agencies or officials to move to a different court.

The bill is one of four that he's vetoed since the 10-day period began last Friday.

Beshear said he believes the change-of-venue legislation gives too much power to litigating parties.

“That violates the separation of powers. It is squarely in the judicial branch's authority to handle things like venue,” Beshear said. “I don't think we should keep going back and back and back and passing different versions of unconstitutional laws.”

It’s not the first time the GOP-led legislature has attempted change of venue laws, which some opponents have characterized as “judge shopping.” Republicans have long claimed they are treated unfairly in Franklin Circuit Court, where most challenges to new laws are heard.

The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down the last attempt at a change of venue law just last year. Chief Justice Laurance VanMeter, who wrote the majority opinion, characterized the attempt as legislative overreach and expressed concern that the measure would give the defendant an “unchecked veto power” to move a case to another judge without any legitimate justification, like a clear bias. Processes already exist to remove judges based on perceived bias.

In justifying his legislation on the House floor, GOP Rep. Patrick Flannery from Olive Hill said he believes his bill is different enough from the one struck down by the state Supreme Court. The main difference is it doesn’t allow the new court venue to be randomly selected anywhere in Kentucky, but rather to a neighboring court district.

Beshear’s veto can be overridden easily by the GOP supermajority. Flannery’s bill passed both chambers on party lines, and it takes only a constitutional majority to override a veto — meaning they only need 50% plus one of both legislative chambers.

The legislature will reconvene for the last two days on April 12 and 15. Republican leadership says the main business of the day will be overriding vetoes.

Beshear handed down another veto Thursday related to nuclear energy. While he signed a joint resolution to direct state utility regulators to prepare for the siting and construction of nuclear energy facilities, Beshear also vetoed a bill to create the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority.

Beshear said he supports developing nuclear energy in the state, but took exception to who would lead the authority.

“This board isn't appointed, or really overseen, by myself or any other constitutional officer,” Beshear said. “None of the 15 at-large members are appointed by either me as a governor, or any constitutional officer. They're selected by the private sector.”

The new authority, as laid out in Senate Bill 198, would include seven members of state government or their designee — including the secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet and the Public Service Commission chair.

Beshear referred to the 15 at-large members, who would also have a vote. It would include the following, many of whom are selected by private interests, rather than appointed by the governor.

  • Representatives selected by electric utility companies and electric cooperatives
  • Designees of the Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Representative selected by municipal utilities
  • Nuclear site remediation services designee
  • Designee of the Kentucky Conservation Committee
  • Representative selected by Kentucky Association of Manufacturers
  • A Kentucky Chamber of Commerce designee
  • One mayor and one county judge who live in an “energy community”

Beshear said he believed it is unconstitutional to allow private companies select members for an executive branch agency.
“This is not any opposition to nuclear energy or a development authority, but a development authority has to be created legally,” Beshear said. “And if it's going to be an executive branch agency, it can't be made up of directly selected private-sector individuals.”

The bill's sponsor Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican from Benton, said he was saddened by the governor’s veto and that it would delay “Kentucky's progress in exploring nuclear energy opportunities.”

"The veto message's emphasis on appointment authority over the merits of the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority concerns me,” Carroll said in a statement. “We intend for the advisory board members, representing diverse entities, to be selected by their respective organizations, thereby minimizing political influence in these decisions.”

Beshear also announced he will veto Senate Bill 65, which would nullify three emergency Medicaid regulations. Beshear called it “stunt legislation,” as those regulations have already been voided.

He also issued a veto on Tuesday for a bill that would require zoning laws not distinguish between gas stations and electric vehicle charging stations.

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.

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