Politics & Government

Bevin backpedals on workers’ compensation nominating panel

Bevin's attorney on workers' comp orders

Steve Pitt, general counsel for Gov. Matt Bevin, explains Bevin's two new executive orders regarding the workers' compensation nominating panel.
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Steve Pitt, general counsel for Gov. Matt Bevin, explains Bevin's two new executive orders regarding the workers' compensation nominating panel.

A Kentucky judge delayed a hearing Monday on Gov. Matt Bevin’s controversial reorganization of a state worker’s compensation panel after he learned that Bevin has signed two new executive orders regarding the panel.

Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, told Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd at a hearing Monday morning that Bevin issued an executive order over the weekend to rescind all his previous changes to the Workers’ Compensation Nominating Commission and then filed another to abolish the commission, give it a new name and make changes to it.

The goal, Pitt said, is to address the concerns raised by Shepherd last week in his order to temporarily block Bevin’s initial executive order, which abolished the commission and then re-created it with new members.

Pitt also said the governor’s new orders were designed to allay concerns by labor unions that sued Bevin over his first executive order. Bevin’s latest action keeps Charles E. McCoy of Owenton on the new panel, now called the Workers’ Compensation Nominating Committee. McCoy joined the Teamsters and AFL-CIO in their lawsuit against the governor.

In a statement, Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said Shepherd’s injunction “would no doubt be reversed on appeal, but faster action is needed” to fill vacancies on the panel.

“The Teamsters, AFL-CIO and other plaintiffs will only harm the workers’ comp system and the families who depend on it if they continue their obstruction,” Stamper said.

Ched Jennings, a Louisville attorney who has joined the unions’ legal team, said he was disappointed with the governor’s actions.

Jennings said he was “blindsided” with the governor’s new orders five minutes before Monday’s court hearing after he had discussed the case with the governor’s counsel Sunday.

“It appears the governor couldn’t win this case, so they are trying something else,” he said.

Jennings also said Bevin’s move “does not address the constitutional issues in this case of whether a governor can make wholesale changes in a state panel.”

“I’m afraid this will further delay the work of the workers’ compensation nominating panel,” he said.

Shepherd called Bevin’s actions “a good faith effort” and urged the opposing parties to try to find “common ground.” He scheduled a hearing for 9:30 a.m. June 20 and kept his injunction in place.

The Workers’ Compensation Nominating Committee nominates to the governor Kentucky’s administrative law judges. Those judges decide whether and how much employers have to pay workers who are hurt on the job.

Last month — with an unprecedented six vacancies to fill — Bevin abolished the commission, rewrote the law that governed it and then re-created it with new members, all by executive order.

Bevin has used that tactic with several boards and commissions, including the Kentucky Racing Commission and the Kentucky Horse Park Commission. But his order reorganizing the nominating commission is the first to be challenged in court. Two labor unions and four injured workers sued Bevin, fearing that his new commission would nominate judges more likely to side with employers at the expense of workers.

Pitt also filed Monday a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, noting that the governor has filed an order rescinding the order that was the subject of the unions’ suit.

Pitt said the new nominating panel will consist of five members instead of seven, appointed by the governor.

The members, except those who were on the original commission, will not be compensated. They had been receiving $100 a meeting. He identified McCoy as one who would get paid.

Pitt also said the new setup would give Democrats two members and Republicans one member, because Democrats are the majority party in the state.

Two other members would be attorneys experienced in the practice of workers’ compensation.

Bevin’s appointments for the new nominating committee are McCoy and attorney Louis D. Kelly of Florence, to serve terms expiring June 13, 2018; Runan S. Pendergrast of Lexington, associate dean of financial aid at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, to serve terms expiring June 13, 2019; and attorneys Megan E. Mersch of Park Hills and Joshua W. Davis of Louisville, to serve terms expiring June 13, 2020.

Three people whom Bevin had appointed last month but not on the new order are attorney Mark Flores of Lexington, attorney Victoria E. Boggs of Louisville and Jordan Tong of Owensboro, president and owner of Frantz Building Services.

Jack Brammer: 502-227-1198, @BGPolitics