Bevin has great authority when legislature is out

Gov. Matt Bevin.
Gov. Matt Bevin.

The public has a lot of confusion about Gov. Matt Bevin’s actions related to restructuring executive branch boards and commissions such as the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees and the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board.

One thing I’ve noticed in my tenure as the 32nd District’s representative, is how unclear citizens are about gubernatorial powers when our part-time legislature is not in session. During our time away from Frankfort, Kentucky has laws in place allowing the governor to do many things through executive orders to address issues facing our commonwealth.

Enacted in the early 1960s, KRS 12.028 is at issue. It specifically permits the governor to “create, alter, or abolish” executive branch boards and commissions.

For whatever reason, the press, pundits and other defenders of the status quo regularly fail to mention that all past Democratic and Republican governors used this statute to abolish and re-create various boards and commissions for decades — 357 times in the last 25 years, including 103 times during the eight years of former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration.

It has been used to abolish and re-create everything from the state fair board to the mining board.

When an executive order conflicts with current law, the executive order is temporary in nature. The next time the legislature convenes they have the opportunity to uphold, reject or modify any or all of the governor’s executive orders executed while they were out of session.

If they choose to not address an executive order, it expires when the legislature adjourns.

I know many people are tired of the bickering between the left and the right. Many times they accuse each other of hypocrisy when the opposite side has power. I’ve heard the members of the press call out Kentucky Republicans for applauding Bevin’s actions after having criticized President Barack Obama’s executive orders over the last seven years.

The flaw in this argument is there is a statute on the books in Kentucky specifically authorizing Bevin’s actions. There is no such federal statute to authorize the president’s actions. The contrast could not be starker: Bevin’s executive orders have been issued pursuant to statutory authority, while Obama’s attempts to rule by executive fiat are often directly contrary to statutory authority.

Candidate Bevin said he’d change the way we do things in Kentucky. As governor, he is fulfilling his promise to be a change agent. I find this refreshing.

Replacing the University of Louisville’s embattled president, restructuring their dysfunctional board of trustees, as well as restructuring the secretive and failing Kentucky Retirement Systems board was perfectly rational and widely applauded — except by a few worried about what will be exposed when their organizations are dragged out of the shadows into the full light of day.

State Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville, is a former gubernatorial candidate.

Related: June 23 Herald-Leader article, “Beshear challenges Bevin’s action abolishing boards