Judge temporarily blocks new laws weakening governor’s power

April 18, 2022 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s Democratic governor won a court order Monday temporarily blocking a GOP-backed measure that would cut off his access to public funds to challenge laws he deems unconstitutional.

It was one of two laws temporarily blocked by Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas D. Wingate. The other would give a legislative committee decision-making authority over executive branch contracts.

The dispute continues a bitter tug-of-war between Gov. Andy Beshear and the Republican-led legislature over the extent of the governor’s executive authority. Both measures became law — and took effect immediately — after the legislature voted last week to override the governor’s vetoes.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said his office was ready to defend the new laws.

“It is our job to defend the laws as they are passed by the General Assembly, and we will continue to defend HB 248 and HB 388 from the legal challenge brought by the governor,” the Republican attorney general said in a statement Monday.

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Laura Leigh Goins, a spokeswoman for the House speaker’s office, said in a statement that there is “no reason to believe that the temporary restraining order is any reflection on the merits of the case or how he may eventually rule.”

“The judge stated that he will maintain the status quo and issue an order as quickly as possible for the appellate courts to decide the issue,” Goins said.

Unable to stop the legislature’s GOP supermajorities from overriding his vetoes, Beshear has gone to court repeatedly to challenge the constitutionality of measures chipping away at his executive authority. One measure now being contested would cut off his use of public funds to do so.

The measure, House Bill 248, would designate Kentucky’s attorney general as the only statewide constitutional officer allowed to spend taxpayer funds on litigation challenging a law’s constitutionality.

In his order temporarily blocking the measures, Wingate said the plaintiffs had “more than sufficiently demonstrated that their rights are being or will be violated.”

”Of particular concern to the court is that plaintiffs have alleged that under HB248 their access to the courts has essentially been blocked,” the judge wrote.

In his veto message, Beshear referred to HB248 as “a blatant attempt by the General Assembly to shield unconstitutional laws it passes from judicial review.” Beshear, a former state attorney general, said it violates the state’s constitution by barring access to the courts.

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Beshear said the other contested measure, HB388, violated at least four sections of Kentucky’s constitution. His veto message said it violated Kentucky’s separation of powers by giving a legislative review committee “final say” over personal service contracts and other agreements entered into by the executive branch. The committee’s role has primarily been advisory in reviewing billions of dollars worth of government contracts.

Under the measure, if the committee disapproves a contract, it is sent back to the state finance and administration secretary. The secretary must either revise the contract to comply with the committee’s objections, cancel the contract or appeal the panel’s disapproval to the state treasurer.

Currently, when the legislative committee recommends disapproval of a state contract, the finance secretary — who is appointed by the governor — can decide to continue the contract as it was originally awarded.

Wingate’s order Monday came in the initial stages of the legal fight over the two measures. The judge is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on May 31.