The two-year state budget lawmakers sent to Gov. Matt Bevin softened state layoff language in it that the Republican governor did not want changed.
The head of the Kentucky Association of State Employees said Friday he would not be surprised to see Bevin veto the language in the budget legislators approved earlier this week and sent to Bevin for his consideration.
“We’re holding our breath to see what the governor does with the layoff language in the budget bill,” said David Smith, executive director of the state workers group. “I think he will veto it and try to do something else to target state workers, like something through executive order. I personally think he’s highly vindictive of state workers.”
Bevin’s communications office did not respond to a request for comment. If he vetoes the language, lawmakers would have an opportunity to override the veto when they reconvene on April 13 and 14 for the final two days of this year’s law-making session.
The Senate had gone along with Bevin’s proposal to make it easier to lay off state employees and strip them of their right to appeal that decision to the Kentucky Personnel Board. The GOP-led House earlier had removed the language from its proposed budget.
The language is a procedural outline for laying off, furloughing or reducing hours of state employees.
Smith and other critics say Bevin’s initial proposal would circumvent the state’s Merit System, created in 1960 to ensure that all state merit — or non-managerial — positions are filled by the most qualified individuals, without political influence, and protects state employees to perform their jobs without political influence. There are about 30,000 state workers in the Merit System.
Bevin had pledged to reduce the size of government as a candidate in 2015.
A compromise state budget by House and Senate conferees made three major changes in what Bevin and the Senate wanted.
Under Bevin’s plan, state agency heads, with the approval of the Personnel Cabinet secretary, would have the authority to lay off or furlough employees or reduce their hours for lack of funds, lack of work, the abolishment of a position, efficiency or changes in duties or organization.
The compromise budget deleted “efficiency” as a reason to lay off workers. “No one knew what that really meant,” Smith said. “It could be applied to many things. That would give the administration too much power.”
Currently, agencies can only lay off state workers due to lack of work, the abolishment of a position or a material change in duties or organization after all other cost-saving measures have been taken and have failed.
Bevin also proposed cutting the time laid-off workers are kept on a re-employment register to be rehired over other applicants from five years to two years.
The compromise budget kept the two-year limit, but said the rehiring can only be in the same job classification. For example, a laid-off state nurse could be on the re-employment register for two years but only could be rehired as a nurse.
Bevin’s plan also said layoffs, furloughs and hour reductions could not be appealed to the Kentucky Personnel Board or other applicable administrative body.
The compromise budget said the job actions could be appealed to the proper administrative body.
The seven-member personnel board hears appeals from state employees who believe they have been penalized without cause and conducts investigations of Merit System violations. The agency decided 246 cases in fiscal year 2016, including two that returned dismissed employees to their jobs and six that reversed the state’s decision to penalize a worker. Penalties against workers were reduced in 14 other cases and settlements were reached in 44 cases.
Smith said all the language involving state workers should have been considered in a separate bill with public committee hearings and not in the budget bill.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the House and Senate conferees on the budget came up with “balancing a realistic, fair approach to dealing with workers and the possibility of needing to trim the size of the state workforce.”