FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Attorney General Andy Beshear on Saturday accused Gov. Matt Bevin of jeopardizing any pension-relief measure that might emerge from a special legislative session by trying to dictate the terms of legislation considered by Kentucky lawmakers.
Beshear, a Democrat challenging Bevin in this year’s gubernatorial election, said the restrictiveness of the governor’s proclamation calling lawmakers into session “creates a clear danger” that anything passed would draw a court challenge.
A top Bevin aide quickly responded that such claims are “absurd,” saying the language in Bevin’s proclamation amounted to “principles that he would like to see adhered to.”
“Nothing about this call restricts the legislature from their legislative independence,” said Bevin’s deputy chief of staff, Bryan Sunderland. “If they decide they don’t want to pass this or any other piece of legislation, they can adjourn.”
Lawmakers were in session on Saturday for the second day of a pension-related special session expected to continue until Wednesday.
The legislature is considering pension-relief proposals for regional universities and quasi-governmental entities hit by sharply higher retirement costs. Those entities include public health departments, community mental health centers and domestic violence shelters.
A bill reflecting Bevin’s pension plan cleared a House committee on Saturday, setting up an expected vote in the full House on Monday. The measure would still need to go to the Senate. Both chambers have commanding GOP majorities. The House committee also considered two Democratic alternatives, but both measures were defeated.
Beshear has repeatedly challenged Bevin’s executive authority throughout their time in office. The language of Bevin’s special-session proclamation opened a new front in that feud.
The attorney general sent a letter to Bevin’s office and lawmakers expressing concerns that the governor overstepped his authority. The governor has sole authority to call and set the agenda of a special session but cannot set exact terms of bills for lawmakers to pass, Beshear said.
“Gov. Bevin’s proclamation calling this special session runs roughshod over that section of the Constitution and these rules,” he told reporters. “It attempts to dictate exactly what the legislature will pass and what the final form of that legislation will look like. He can’t do it.”
“What the governor has done,” Beshear added, “creates a clear danger that anything that is now passed will be subjected to a legal challenge.”
Beshear offered a potential solution to clear away a legal threat. The governor could amend his proclamation to remove the language that would be the basis of a legal challenge, he said. The special session is expected to continue until Wednesday.
“Just admit you’re wrong, change the call and try to do the right thing,” Beshear said.
House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, the chamber’s top-ranking Democrat, has also harshly criticized the wording of Bevin’s proclamation as overly restrictive. He called it a violation of separation of powers and a threat to legislative independence.
Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, sent his own letter to lawmakers later Saturday to defend the governor’s special-session proclamation and criticize Beshear’s concerns as “lacking in legal basis.”
Pitt wrote that a more specific special-session call is a “good thing,” and that Kentucky courts have signaled that the purpose is to notify the public of subjects to be considered.
“Under this holding, a more specific special-session call gives the public more notice of what the General Assembly is going to consider,” Pitt wrote. “So a more specific proclamation is more easily constitutional than a general one.”
Republicans also noted that Beshear’s father — former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear — included an entire bill in his official call for lawmakers to convene for a special session last decade.
Andy Beshear’s argument would have put that 2008 legislation “at risk” if its final version varied from language included in Steve Beshear’s formal call for a special session, Sunderland said.
The attorney general said there were big differences between the two situations.
His father’s special-session proclamation was just one page, Andy Beshear said. It attached the draft bill and asked lawmakers to consider the principles embodied in it, he said.