Beshear vetoes bills limiting administration’s authority, giving AG abortion power

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Gov. Andy Beshear has vetoed five bills recently approved by the state Legislature, including three that would have limited his ability to respond to emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic.

In most of the cases related to House bills 1, 2, and 5 and Senate bills 1 and 2, the governor cited Constitutional or cost grounds as the reason behind his vetoes. He also noted the state Supreme Court already has ruled on the legality of most of his coronavirus-related decisions and orders, raising into question the Legislature’s actions.

In addition to the bills restricting his authority in emergencies, one would have required the Legislature to approve basic government reorganizations within the administrative branch and one — House Bill 2 — would take decisions away from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services—but only regarding abortion—and place them under the direction of Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is openly hostile to abortion rights.

But Beshear said Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers had reached out about possible areas of compromise on at least some of the measures, something the governor said he was willing to discuss and would address in a later to lawmakers later this week. And the Republican leadership it will see what happens.

“While these vetoes are not unexpected, they are nevertheless disappointing. House Majority Leadership will reserve comment until we determine whether the Governor is sincere in his desire to work with us. After all, ten months of unilateral decision-making and unchecked spending has provided evidence otherwise. We approach any collaboration with a commitment to ensuring that the voices of Kentuckians across the state are heard,” House Speaker David Osborne said of the vetoes. “These men and women expect their state to provide the information and resources they need to safely navigate this virus without inconsistent shutdowns and arbitrary orders. They were heard loud and clear as their Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of each of the bills vetoed by the Governor and we stand ready to override these vetoes if necessary. Let it not be forgotten that one of the bills vetoed today is HB 2, legislation that grants the state’s top law enforcement officer the authority to enforce the state’s laws and regulations where it concerns abortion providers. This is the second veto of this language by a governor who consistently claims he is trying to save lives.”

“We want to see what compromise looks like,” Beshear said, saying he could understand provisions that outlined formal requirements without tying a governor’s hands or costing taxpayers unreasonably.

The governor noted to meet the mandates of the bills approved by the Legislature, 10 special sessions would have been required, costing taxpayers more than $3.25 million.

“We can’t hamstring the administration every time we want to do something,” he said, adding he hopes to find “a way forward” with lawmakers.

We are going to see if there is some common ground….we will do our part about different options.”

Citing independent polls, the governor noted the public shows broad support for most of the axctions taken to try to control the spread of the coronavirus. Furthermore, the steps he’s taken, while sometimes difficult and hard on business, have helped the state achieve one of the  lowest death rates in the region.

He also said, putting CDC guidelines into law is bad policy and likely unconstitutional. Furthermorem, it would cause “chaos” for businesses who wouldn’t “know what they can and can’t do.”

Furthermore, in addition to turning the state’s rules over to a “federal agency with no accountability,” the move likely is unconstitutional.

The governor said his efforts to stop COVID-19 are widely supported by Kentuckians86% support asking people to stay at home and avoid gathering in groups; 78% support limiting restaurants to carry-out only; and 73% support prohibiting K-12 schools from teaching in-person.

“What this says is no matter what party you’re in, no matter who you voted for for president, the people of Kentucky support the ability to take steps necessary to protect us,” said Beshear.

Normalized by population, Kentucky has a lower number of deaths than all neighboring states. The state has crushed or plateaued three different surges in cases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consistently has backed the effectiveness of Gov. Beshear’s restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in restaurants and bars, gyms, schools and other venues.

“This is a way of saying under the Kentucky Constitution, this is the executive branch’s job,” said Beshear. “I certainly hope we wouldn’t think that in the middle of a battle, in the middle of a war, you would have a legislative branch debate and vote on tactics – that’s just not how the Constitution is set up.”

The governor said Senate Bill 1 interferes with the Governor’s power and constitutional responsibility to confront emergencies; allows the General Assembly to exercise power outside of session and forces the Governor to call it back into session in the event of an emergency; and, the bill provides an inferior executive officer, the Attorney General, the power to approve or disapprove of the Governor’s decisions.

The governor also said Senate Bill 1 would also be costly for taxpayers. If the General Assembly approved the Governor’s emergency action in 30-day increments, with no Saturday meeting days and five days to pass a bill or resolution through both chambers, special sessions would cost $65,000 per day. That would be $325,000 per five-day session and $3.25 million for 10 sessions.

The Governor emphasized that House Bill 5 is unconstitutional as well, because it would: “…prevent [the Governor] from executing new laws passed by the General Assembly or the United States Congress that require new or different governmental structures to carry out.  It would also disqualify the Commonwealth from federal grants that may require a new office or commission.”

Groups who opposed the abortion measure were quick to respond to the veto Tuesday evening.

“The Kentucky General Assembly will stop at nothing, even in a deadly pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 people, to restrict abortion access. Make no mistake, the goal is to restrict abortion access through back channels by shifting oversight of abortion providers to an office with no business overseeing health care. Policies that punish pregnant people and providers over basic reproductive health care will not stand with Kentuckians. The majority of the U.S. supports access to safe, legal abortion. Gov. Beshear’s veto of HB 2 upholds the beliefs of the majority of the commonwealth,” said Tamarra Wieder, State Director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky.

“This week marks the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the actions of Gov. Beshear show just how important it is for health care experts to oversee health care services in Kentucky. It also sends a message to other elected leaders in conservative-led states: we must stand strong and reaffirm our constitutionally protected right to abortion.

“The inflammatory and stigmatizing anti-abortion rhetoric repeatedly introduced by this supermajority must be met with conviction and denounced—the anti-abortion bills sent to the governor have nothing to do with the health and wellbeing of Kentuckians and everything to do with politicizing public health. The anti-science, anti-mask, anti-fact mentality of the General Assembly and their supporters must stop, and we expect the strength of our governor to put these antics to rest,” Wieder concluded.

“The bill would allow anti-abortion Attorney General Daniel Cameron to interfere with and undermine regulatory powers currently held by career health experts at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. House Bill 2 is a blatant attempt by anti-abortion politicians and their allies to work in tandem to make it harder for Kentuckians to access reproductive health care, including safe, legal abortion. HB 2 is clearly not about improving health and safety, as it singles out providers of abortion care – an already incredibly tightly regulated area of healthcare – and no other types of healthcare providers. Attorney General Cameron has demonstrated he would target abortion providers, and even punish them with criminal and civil penalties if he were given authorities like those in HB 2,” added ACLU-KY Policy Strategist Jackie McGranahan.

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