Senate panel approves bill letting top lawmakers defend state law in courts when AG declines

jbrammer@herald-leader.comMarch 13, 2014 

An emotional Attorney General Jack Conway announced he will not appeal a federal judge's ruling that requires Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

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FRANKFORT — A Senate committee unanimously approved a bill Thursday 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 part of the Kentucky Constitution.

Senate Bill 221, sponsored by Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, was filed following Attorney General Jack Conway's decision last week to not appeal a federal judge's ruling that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries. Gov. Steve Beshear is appealing the ruling using outside attorneys. He and Conway are Democrats.

SB 221 also 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.

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.

Some legislators said the settlement money should have gone to the state's General Fund, which provides money for most state programs. All members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of SB 221.

Gregory said she is confident the bill will win approval from the full Republican-led Senate and most likely from the Democrat-led House. But House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he does not see any need for the bill.

Conway, who is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2015, has dismissed the proposal as unconstitutional.

Earlier in the day, the committee unanimously approved a bill with similarities to portions of Gregory's proposal. SB 223, sponsored by Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, would require any funds recovered by the attorney general's office in a legal case to be deposited into the General Fund.

The committee also unanimously approved SB 234, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer II, D-Winchester, that would make changes to Kentucky's sex-offense laws and provide victims with added protection.

The bill, modeled after New Jersey's Nicole's Law, provides that a defendant's conviction or guilty plea in a sex-offense case triggers an automatic application for a restraining order that restricts the defendant's contact with the victim of the crime. The New Jersey law is named after a teen rape victim.

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

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