From schools to executive powers, GOP Legislature begins veto overrides

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/AP) –  Flexing their political muscle, Republican lawmakers on Monday swept aside the Democratic governor’s vetoes of bills to change retirement benefits for new teachers and potentially shield legislative records from public scrutiny.

Soon after gaveling in after a nearly two-week break, the GOP-dominated legislature turned quickly to overriding a stack of vetoes by Gov. Andy Beshear.

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The endeavor spanned hours of work. Some of the vetoed bills would strip away parts of the governor’s executive authority, shifting the power to statewide Republican officeholders. The governor has hinted he expects court challenges to some vetoed bills if they become law.

The House and Senate, both with GOP supermajorities, voted to override Beshear’s veto of a bill to create a “hybrid” pension tier blending defined benefit and contribution components for new Kentucky teachers hired starting in 2022. It would mean that teachers hired starting next January would be required to contribute more toward their retirement benefits.

The bill would not affect teachers already enrolled in the retirement system.

Opponents said the measure would hamper efforts to recruit people into teaching. Democratic Rep. Tina Bojanowski said the measure would make it necessary for new teachers to “work longer, pay more and end up receiving fewer benefits in the long term.”

Republican Rep. C. Ed Massey responded that education groups were involved as the bill was crafted.

“To say that this is against teachers is just a false narrative,” he said.

Republican lawmakers also wrapped up an override of Beshear’s veto of a bill that opponents said would weaken Kentucky’s open records law. The measure would give Kentucky lawmakers more authority to deny requests for legislative records. Instead of an appeal to Franklin County Circuit Court, the bill’s intent is for those appeals to be heard by a panel of legislative leadership from both parties. Both the House and Senate swept aside the veto.

Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian called the bill a “frontal attack” on the open records law.

“If you don’t have anything to hide, what are you afraid of?” Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond said in criticizing the bill.

In a major showdown, the House voted to override the Democratic governor’s veto of a bill to allow a form of scholarship tax credits to pay for private school tuition in several of the state’s most populated counties. Many public school advocates oppose the proposal.

The veto had not yet been taken up in the Senate.

The House overrode that veto by a 51-42 margin, wider than the 48-47 vote by which the bill originally passed the House.

House Democratic leaders Joni Jenkins, Derrick Graham and Angie Hatton released a statement Monday evening.

“What Republican House leaders did today to severely limit debate on the governor’s vetoes is both appalling and, at least in our collective memory, unprecedented.  These bills will have a profound impact on all Kentuckians, and giving us just five minutes to debate each vetoed bill – including the state budget, incredibly – is not good government, it’s not transparent government, and it’s not the type of government Kentuckians need and deserve.  This is truly a sad day for the legislative process.”

Meanwhile, Democrats also denounced override votes on bills meant to reduce some of the governor’s authority. Marzian called them a “power grab” by Republicans.

Among the measures overridden by both chambers were bills to:

—Remove the governor from his position as a member and chair of the State Investment Commission, shifting the treasurer into the chairmanship. Both chambers overrode.

—Allow the state fish and wildlife board to appoint its own commissioner and set the salary.

Beshear said Monday he hoped lawmakers would revise some of the bills that changed how the governor could use coronavirus stimulus funds instead of overriding them.

“They’ve got two days, certainly this is what I wish they would focus on, as opposed to overriding some vetoes where we identified, an issue where it won’t work,” Beshear said. “The question is are we more interested in being partisan and showing each other who’s boss or actually doing something that works and advances the ball to help Kentuckians?”

Beshear has been negotiating with legislative leaders on how to use the massive infusion of money coming to state government from the federal aid measure championed by President Joe Biden.

In a late burst of action in the final two days, lawmakers also could consider several high-profile bills that haven’t yet cleared the legislature. Those proposals would curb no-knock police warrants, relax early voting rules and shield businesses from pandemic-related lawsuits.

On Monday, a Senate committee narrowly advanced a contentious bill to require that future constables receive professional law enforcement training before wielding police powers.

The House-passed bill, sent to the full Senate, would not apply to current constables. It would require new constables starting in 2023 to receive certification like other law enforcement officers before exercising such police powers as making traffic stops and arrests.