Bill would let top lawmakers intervene in court cases when AG declines to defend Kentucky law

jbrammer@herald-leader.comMarch 11, 2014 

The Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort.

SAM RICHE — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

FRANKFORT — A Kentucky lawmaker has filed a bill that would allow the Senate president or House speaker to intervene in a court case when the attorney general fails to defend a state law or provision of the Kentucky Constitution.

Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, said Tuesday she filed Senate Bill 221 in part because Attorney General Jack Conway decided last week not to appeal a federal judge's ruling that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries.

In response, Gov. Steve Beshear said he would hire outside attorneys to appeal the ruling by U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II, which struck down portions of a 1998 state law and a 2004 state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages from outside Kentucky.

Gregory also said her bill would allow the top two legislative leaders to intervene in court cases in which attorneys general submit an order to the court giving them sole discretion to spend funding from a legal settlement.

Senate President Robert Stivers, who supports Gregory's bill, said that provision stems from Conway's decision earlier this year to use more than $32 million collected from lawsuit settlements with two drug companies to expand substance abuse treatment in Kentucky.

Stivers said the money should have gone to the state's General Fund, which provides money for most state programs.

Money from legal settlements obtained by the attorney general typically are put in the state's General Fund. State legislators then determine how the money is spent.

In this case, Conway said court orders filed in both settlements required that the money be spent on drug treatment programs.

Conway, who is considering a run for governor in 2015, said in an email Tuesday that Gregory's bill "is partisan politics and unconstitutional, and frankly I think the Kentucky State Senate needs to be focused on creating jobs and improving education."

When told about the bill, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, responded sarcastically: "Wonder where that came from?"

He added: "We'll take a look at it."

Gregory said the Senate Judiciary Committee may consider her bill Thursday. It contains an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect immediately whenever it becomes law.

Gregory has been mentioned as a possible candidate for attorney general in 2015. Asked Tuesday if she is looking at entering that race, she said "not at all."

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog:

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