Beshear reaches out to lawmakers on executive powers bills

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Faced with a weakening of his executive powers, Kentucky’s Democratic governor has offered an outline for potential compromises in a letter to top Republican legislative leaders.

Gov. Andy Beshear sent the letter to House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers last week, soon after the governor vetoed a series of GOP-backed bills that would limit his executive authority, including in times of emergency.

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The governor doesn’t have much leverage unless he can mobilize public support for his proposals. Republican lawmakers have the numbers to override the governor’s vetoes when they resume their session in early February.

The governor has said the measures would hamper the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19. Beshear’s letter stated his “strong preference” is to hold off on legislation altering executive powers until Kentucky has overcome the pandemic. But he told the House and Senate leaders that his letter was an attempt to “provide a potential framework for discussion and compromise.”

“If the General Assembly is determined — even in the midst of a deadly pandemic and in spite of our comparatively successful response — on passing legislation, then I recommend we discuss narrowly tailoring that legislation to address concerns that you raise,” the governor wrote.

The legislative leaders did not immediately respond when their offices were asked Tuesday about Beshear’s suggestions. The governor’s letter was obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request.

Stivers recently told The Courier Journal that top lawmakers would be open to negotiations if the governor showed a willingness to discuss other ways to address the emergency powers issues.

Passage of the bills dominated the early part of this year’s legislative session.

One of the vetoed bills would limit the governor’s executive orders in times of emergency to 30 days unless extended by lawmakers. It would apply to orders that place restrictions on in-person meetings of schools, businesses and religious gatherings or impose mandatory quarantine or isolation requirements.

Republican lawmakers have complained about the length of the governor’s emergency powers. In his letter, Beshear suggested linking the timeframe of a state emergency to the corresponding federal emergency declaration, giving him additional leeway to respond to the crisis. That would give the state additional flexibility to address issues unique to Kentucky if needed, the governor’s office said.

“While I believe the emergency itself — here, a deadly virus — sets the timeline, I am open to discussing how to potentially index the length of a state declaration in response to a pandemic or extended emergency to the length of the applicable federal declaration with some grace period, perhaps 60 days,” Beshear wrote.

“If the true goal is consultation — and not control — then formalizing and providing a structure for such consultation should be the goal of any legislation,” the governor wrote

Beshear suggested creating an obligation for a governor’s administration, during times of emergency, to report to a legislative committee monthly on the state of the emergency and the steps taken to deal with it.

“This would create formalized consultation in a structural and transparent way where legislative committee members could express support or concern to both the administration and the public,” the governor wrote.

In deflecting the GOP criticism, Beshear’s office noted that members of his administration have spent more than 30 hours testifying before legislative committees to discuss coronavirus-related issues.

Republican lawmakers accuse Beshear of overreaching with his virus-related restrictions on businesses, schools and individuals, saying the orders were arbitrary and uneven in application. Beshear says the actions saved lives and were similar to steps taken in other states.

Kentucky has reported more than 350,000 COVID-19 cases and at least 3,495 deaths since the pandemic began. Despite that, Beshear said the Bluegrass State has fared better than most states in combating the pandemic.

Beshear also raised concerns in his letter about another bill that would eliminate the governor’s ability to temporarily reorganize boards, commissions, agencies and cabinets when the legislature isn’t in session. He warned those limitations could at times prevent the “faithful execution” of law and could disqualify Kentucky from some federal grants.

He proposed a “more tailored approach” in any legislation.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.