Politics & Government

Senate Republicans want to curb governor's authority to issue regulations

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear sees no need for a constitutional amendment approved Wednesday by a Senate committee along party lines that would curb the governor's power to issue administrative regulations.

After strong debate, the Senate State and Local Government Committee approved Senate Bill 1 on a 7-4 partisan vote, with Republicans in the majority, and sent it to the full Senate for consideration.

The bill would ask Kentucky voters in November if they supported the General Assembly's setting up "a legislative process" to void administrative regulations from the governor and other executive agencies.

The process is not specific at this time. It could involve creating a special committee of lawmakers or allowing the House and Senate to vote as committees of the whole when not in session.

Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said Wednesday night, "It is the responsibility of the governor, a statewide elected official, to issue regulations to implement laws passed by the General Assembly to run the day-to-day operations of Kentucky's state government.

"The legislature already has the power to overturn any regulation issued by the executive branch by passing legislation while they are in session. The last thing the people of the state want is a small group of legislators elected by a small number of voters to have the authority to meddle in the day-to-day operations of government."

She added, "Delegating that legislative authority to a small group of legislators to exercise at any time would seriously impede the governor's responsibility to run government on a day-to-day basis."

If the legislature approves SB 1, the law would forbid the governor from vetoing a constitutional amendment approved by the General Assembly.

Republican lawmakers argued that SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, is needed to balance powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

But Democratic legislators contended that it would create, as Sen. Reginald Thomas of Lexington said, "a super legislature."

The governor and executive agencies issue about 700 regulations a year to implement various laws approved by the legislature. State government has about 4,000 regulations, which govern every facet of the executive bureaucracy, from mining regulations to Medicaid.

Under current law, the legislature's Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee reviews most of those regulations but has no power to actually stop them from taking effect.

The only way the legislature can stop them is by approving laws when they are in session.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, noted during committee debate Wednesday that from 2000 to 2013, the legislature declared 42 administrative regulations deficient and 21 of them went into effect with the governor's blessing.

He noted that Beshear, a Democrat, last year allowed regulations to take effect dealing with Common Core standards of what children should learn and health benefit exchanges created by President Obama's Affordable Care Act after a legislative panel ruled against them.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, testified for SB 1 with state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

Stivers said the bill was needed to make the legislative and executive branches of government more equal.

Comer said Kentuckians have "a state and federal government out of control" with too many administrative regulations.

But Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said he preferred the present system of dealing with administrative regulations.

He said SB 1 would allow his vote on issues to be handed over to other lawmakers.

Senate Minority R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said the measure was "a dangerous precedent" that could give much power to a few people.

Tom FitzGerald, director of the legal group Kentucky Resources Council, said SB 1 "would upend the balance of powers" among the government's branches.