Politics & Government

Beshear files fourth lawsuit against Bevin, this time over education boards

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, left, and Gov. Matt Bevin.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, left, and Gov. Matt Bevin. File photo.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear sued Gov. Matt Bevin on Tuesday for the fourth time, claiming the Republican governor did not have the authority to dissolve and reorganize several state education boards to which Bevin appoints members.

The lawsuit, filed in Franklin Circuit Court, asked a judge to “stop Governor Bevin’s unlawful and unconstitutional actions that seek to control the decisions of statutorily independent state boards.” Beshear asked the court for a permanent injunction against implementing Bevin’s order.

“A governor does not have ‘absolute authority’ over state boards and cannot ignore, suspend and rewrite laws passed by the General Assembly that create independent boards, outline their structure and set mandatory terms for their members,” said Beshear, a Democrat. “My job as attorney general is to enforce the constitution, to maintain the separation of powers and to ensure no branch of government exceeds its powers granted to it by the people. Everyone must follow the law, regardless of position and regardless of party.”

Bevin’s press secretary, Woody Maglinger, said the 32-page lawsuit is another example of Beshear “placing politics above the law.”

Maglinger said Bevin’s order was “legal, proper and in the best interest of students.”

Bevin contends state law gives him authority to reorganize state government when the legislature is not in session. He has said former Gov. Steve Beshear, Andy Beshear’s father, issued 103 such executive orders during his time in office.

“Last year, Attorney General Beshear used the same statute to reorganize his office, and the General Assembly refused to accept his proposed changes,” Maglinger said. “Why didn’t he look in the mirror and sue himself? Why isn’t he being honest with the people of Kentucky.”

Beshear, though, said Bevin’s changes to education boards are not comparable to the reorganization of the attorney general’s office.

“Gov. Bevin made this same argument before the Franklin Circuit Court, which rejected it,” Beshear said, referencing his lawsuit against Bevin over a reorganization of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. “The court found a significant difference between a cabinet or division under the direct control of the governor or attorney general and a university board that is created by the General Assembly to be independent, with statutory limitations on the governor’s influence such as mandatory member terms and limitations on removal. The education boards reorganized by Gov. Bevin were similarly created by the General Assembly to be independent.”

Bevin signed an executive order June 2 that dissolved and reorganized several state education boards. Beshear threatened to sue Bevin unless he rescinded or significantly changed the order within a week.

Last Friday, Bevin signed an amended order but Beshear said Tuesday the changes did not go far enough.

Seven education boards are at issue: the Kentucky Board of Education; the Council on Postsecondary Education; the Standards and Assessments Process Review Committee; the School Curriculum, Assessment and Accountability Council; the Education Professional Standards Board, which certifies teachers; the Reading Diagnostic and Intervention Grant Steering Committee; and the State Advisory Council for Gifted and Talented Education.

State law gives the Education Professional Standards Board independence, and the responsibility to select its own executive director, the lawsuit said, but the executive order removes that statutory authority and instead gives the governor the sole authority to appoint the board’s executive director.

The changes to the Kentucky Board of Education include adding four non-voting, non-member advisers.

The lawsuit contends Bevin’s order violates state law by changing the structure of the Kentucky Board of Education, “adding new members with additional rights, and by adding occupational and other requirements prohibited by the statute.”

In the case of the Reading Diagnostic and Intervention Grant Steering Committee, “the executive order substitutes the judgment of the governor over that of the General Assembly,” the lawsuit said.

Regarding the Council on Postsecondary Education, the executive order “suspends, ignores, and rewrites state law which provides the mandatory structure and confirmation process and the race, sex, geography, and political affiliation requirements for the board,” the lawsuit said.

Beshear has previously won a lawsuit challenging mid-year budget cuts by Bevin to colleges and universities. Beshear also has sued Bevin over executive orders that eliminated and replaced state boards overseeing the University of Louisville and the Kentucky Retirement Systems. The Kentucky Supreme Court plans to hear the U of L case Aug. 18. Beshear won that case in Franklin Circuit Court.

Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said his group hopes the lawsuit can be resolved quickly.

“Both the Kentucky Board of Education and the Education Professional Standards Board have several significant issues that they either are considering right now or have on the front burner to take up,” Hughes said.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics