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GOP-led Kentucky legislature quickly dispatches Beshear vetoes

The Kentucky Capitol
Ryan Van Velzer
The Kentucky Capitol

The GOP-controlled Kentucky legislature overrode nearly all of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes on Friday, the second to last day of the session.

Republicans didn’t allow any of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s full vetoes to stand — except for one — by the end of the penultimate day of the session. They also allowed one budget line item veto to stand.

As a result, a number of the most controversial bills of the session will soon become law, including heavily debated bills like the so-called Safer Kentucky Act, legislation making it even harder to retire coal-fired power plants and a bill making some Louisville elections nonpartisan are among those the legislature overrode Friday.

Most of the bills will become law 90 days after the session ends on April 15, though some will go into effect immediately due to a so-called “emergency clause.”

Republican lawmakers controlling about 80% of seats were able to easily override the governor's vetoes with a constitutional majority of each chamber — meaning half plus one — voting to overrule him.

Beshear issued 23 line item vetoes to House Bill 6, the executive branch budget bill outlining $30 billion of General Fund spending over the next two fiscal years. Both chambers voted to override all but one of these line item vetoes.

The one line item veto Republicans left intact dealt with a requirement that the Department for Natural Resources investigate and analyze all active and inactive coal mining sites in Kentucky and issue a detailed report on each by Dec. 1. Beshear wrote in his veto statement this was an unfunded mandate that would place an “impossible burden” on staff to report on more than 1,000 sites and could jeopardize $3.5 million of federal funding.

The rest of Beshear’s line item vetoes of HB 6 received an override, including provisions the governor said would limit what his administration spends to respond to emergencies and natural disasters, as well as unexpected costs related to housing state inmates — citing an expected rise in inmate population with the passage of House Bill 5, the sweeping anti-crime bill called the “Safer Kentucky Act.” They also voted to override Beshear’s line item vetoes of HB 6 language he said could “overturn” the state’s new medical cannabis program and will now require the state treasurer to approve any use of state aircraft by executive branch officials.

The legislature also voted to override two line item vetoes Beshear issued for House Bill 1, which appropriates $2.7 billion from the state’s budget reserve trust fund for one-time infrastructure spending projects and public pension payments. Both line items were of a technical nature, with the governor arguing $200 million of grant funding was sent to the incorrect agency.

Beshear’s two line item vetoes of House Bill 8, the state revenue bill, were dismissed outright by Republicans as unconstitutional, saying a governor can only issue such vetoes to appropriation bills. Instead of issuing an override, the legislature sent the bill to the secretary of state to become law.

Beshear’s spokesperson said the HB 8 line item vetoes were “legal and constitutional,” adding the administration had “already won a similar legal case on this matter.” The governor’s vetoes voided a section making gold bars exempt from the state sales and use tax and another he said would create an unfunded mandate for a tax amnesty program.

Both chambers overrode the governor’s veto of the Safer Kentucky Act, over impassioned arguments from Democrats who are concerned the bill will significantly overburden prisons and jails, cost the state millions of dollars and criminalize homelessness.

House Bill 5 is huge, ranging from limiting bail funds to a violent felony offender three strikes law to creating a carjacking statute. One of its most controversial provisions makes street camping illegal, which Beshear cited as one of the big motivators behind his veto. Beshear was easily overridden in both chambers. Since the bill did not have an emergency clause, most of it will go into effect in June.

The GOP-controlled legislature also overwhelmingly overrode Beshear’s veto of a bill that would make the process longer and more difficult to retire coal-fired power plants, creating a secondary board in addition to state utility regulators to review requests. Republicans who voted in favor of the bill said they feared utilities who attempt to retire existing facilities were doing so merely to bow to national politics. Utility companies say the plants aren’t performing and keeping them open will cost ratepayers.

Another bill to come out unscathed from Beshear’s veto is House Bill 388, labeled by its opponents as a continuation in the war on Louisville. Ostensibly inspired by a commission that studied the 2-decades-old Louisville merge, the bill strips party affiliation from several Louisville ballots, changes the police accountability process and puts a year-long freeze on changes to city zoning regulations.

The only bill Beshear vetoed in its entirety to so far escape an override was House Bill 771, a bill that only one lawmaker voted against as it moved through the legislature, which allowed for the creation of “spendthrift trusts.” That’s a type of trust where limits can be placed on how much interest the beneficiaries have access to.

In his veto message, Beshear said the legislation, perhaps unintentionally, repealed a larger chapter of state statutes that would change administration of already existing trusts, not just spendthrift trusts.

Here are some of the bills the legislature pushed through over Beshear’s objections:

  • House Bill 7 will allow autonomous vehicles, including driverless semi-trucks, to operate on Kentucky highways and streets will go into effect this summer. It was a relatively close vote in both chambers, where some Republicans joined Democrats over fears of job loss and decreased public safety.
  • House Bill 136 will keep the Louisville Air Pollution Control District from issuing fines to companies that voluntarily disclose violations. The bill’s lead sponsor works for a company that could benefit from such legislation. 
  • House Bill 513 gives the legislature the authority to decide what statues and artwork go in the State Capitol, taking the authority from the governor. Opponents say the bill is meant as retribution for Beshear deciding to remove the Jefferson Davis statue from the building. 
  • House Bill 622 to fully strip the Kentucky governor’s power to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy will also go into effect immediately. If a Kentucky U.S. senator were to leave their position, the post will instead be filled by special election. The bill originally received its first committee vote just a day after Sen. Mitch McConnell announced he will step down from his Senate leadership position.
  • House Concurrent Resolution 81 will move forward to create a taskforce to study the leadership structure of Jefferson County Public Schools, including breaking it up into multiple districts.
  • Senate Bill 16 will criminalize the operation of drones and recording equipment at animal feeding operations and food manufacturing plants without the owner’s written consent. Animal welfare advocates have expressed concerns with the legislation.
  • Senate Bill 198 creates the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority. Beshear took issue with the composition of its board, which he would have little authority to appoint.
  • Senate Bill 259 allows the West End Opportunity Partnership to remove groups if they don’t follow certain rules "to determine successors” which opponents say could be used to remove the Louisville NAACP. Louisville Democratic Sen. Denise Harper Angel sponsored the bill.
  • Senate Bill 299 creates the independent Kentucky Horse Racing and Gaming Corporation, which would have jurisdiction over all forms of horse racing, horse breed integrity, gaming, charitable gaming, and wagering in the state.

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.
Joe is the enterprise statehouse reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email Joe at jsonka@lpm.org.

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