Politics & Government

Republicans plan push to curb governor's powers following Obamacare dispute

Gov. Steve Beshear, right, and Senate President Robert Stivers conferred during the 2013 session of the General Assembly.
Gov. Steve Beshear, right, and Senate President Robert Stivers conferred during the 2013 session of the General Assembly. AP

FRANKFORT — A year after Gov. Steve Beshear implemented the federal health care law without legislative approval, Senate Republicans plan to push a constitutional amendment that would curb the governor's power to issue administrative regulations.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said his caucus would push for the restriction early in the 2014 General Assembly that begins Tuesday.

The proposed change to the state Constitution would keep a regulation issued by the governor or executive branch from taking effect if lawmakers declare it deficient.

The governor and executive agencies issue about 700 regulations each year to implement various laws approved by the legislature. The legislature's Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee reviews most of those regulations, but has no power to actually stop them from taking effect.

State government has about 4,000 regulations, which govern every facet of the executive bureaucracy, from mining regulations to Medicaid.

Stivers, who has enjoyed a fairly collegial working relationship with Beshear, said the proposed amendment is not directed at the governor or his decisions to expand Medicaid eligibility and set up a state-run insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have criticized heavily.

"We just think there are way too many regulations in state government, have talked about that for years and want to do something about all the over-regulation by government agencies," he said.

Beshear, a Democrat, had no immediate comment on the amendment.

In a brief email about the proposed amendment, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said "I agree with the principle of the legislature having oversight with regard to government agencies." He did not elaborate.

Currently, the state legislature creates laws and the executive branch puts them into effect, often with the use of regulations.

The legislature's review panel can declare a regulation deficient, but Stivers noted that doing so "really has no impact on the viability of the regulation because the governor can go ahead and enact it anyway."

"The regulations should be an extension of the policy that the legislature sets," he said.

The state's system for implementing and reviewing regulations went into effect in the early 1980s after the Kentucky Supreme Court, in the case of then-Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. vs. the Legislative Research Commission, said the legislature could not immediately stop an administrative regulation from the executive branch by declaring it deficient.

The high court said the actions of lawmakers to stop administrative regulations "had the effect of creating a legislative veto of the actions of the executive branch."

In an interview Thursday with the Herald-Leader, Stivers said lawmakers need a way to make sure governors implement laws in a manner that is consistent with the legislature's intent.

"If the legislature doesn't think that policy is being implemented by regulation, shouldn't we have that ability to strike down that regulation?" he asked.

Under the proposed amendment, the regulation review panel would stay at eight members and its makeup would not change, Stivers said. The panel now has four Democrats and four Republicans. It needs five votes to declare a regulation deficient.

Stivers said the proposed amendment has the backing of the majority Republican caucus in the Senate and that it may be designated as Senate Bill 1, a title that gives emphasis to its support.

The Senate Republicans are still debating who will be sponsors of the amendment, but Stivers said he plans to have his name on it.

If the legislature approves the amendment, voters would decide its fate at the polls in November. A governor cannot veto a constitutional amendment approved by the legislature.