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Top lawmakers signal intent to override Beshear vetoes

Kentucky capitol
Posted at 7:12 PM, Feb 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-01 20:31:00-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s top Republican lawmakers signaled Monday that the legislature will move ahead with votes to override the Democratic governor’s vetoes of bills limiting his executive powers to respond to emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor replied with a blunt warning that the fight isn’t over.

“If their comment is, ’We’re going to override your vetoes no matter what and maybe we can talk later,′ I guess mine is: ‘We’ll see you in court,’” he said. “I cannot and will not let the health and the lives of the people of Kentucky be put in this danger when we are so close to getting out of this.”

House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers sent a letter earlier Monday informing the governor of their plans to sweep aside his veto. Their letter was a response to the governor’s recent overture outlining possible compromises.

Beshear maintains the steps he has taken to limit activity during the pandemic saved lives. He has said the GOP-backed bills amount to unconstitutional encroachments on his legal authority to respond to emergencies.

The legislative leaders’ letter was obtained by The Associated Press through an open-records request. Lawmakers reconvene Tuesday after an extended break.

In the letter, Osborne and Stivers offered to talk later about possible modifications after the votes.

“Given our time constraints, we are compelled to proceed with the veto override votes this week,” they wrote. “Regardless of the outcome of those votes, we will be happy to sit down with you as soon as schedules allow and talk about what modifications might improve the legislation and its application to the ongoing pandemic.”

Holding supermajorities in the House and Senate, Republicans have the numbers to override the governor’s vetoes. Passage of the bills dominated the early part of this year’s legislative session.

Later Monday, Beshear told reporters that he put compromise offers on the table and followed up repeatedly to gauge whether the top GOP lawmakers were willing to meet.

“And then the day before the session’s about to start, we got a letter saying, ‘We don’t have time, we’re going to override your vetoes and maybe we can talk after,’” the governor said.

In threatening to go to court, Beshear said, the measures would undo crucial rules — such as the mask mandate and limits on gatherings — to combat the coronavirus.

In their letter, Osborne and Stivers told the governor that discussing possible changes to the bills would be a challenge given the amount of work ahead for lawmakers in the short session. Tuesday will be the ninth day of the 30-day session.

Lawmakers have a new state budget and several other issues to confront, including legislation to preserve historical race wagering — a priority for the state’s horse tracks. Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that at least some forms of historical race wagering don’t meet pari-mutuel wagering standards under Kentucky law.

Osborne and Stivers signaled that override votes will be on the agenda. One vetoed bill would limit the governor’s executive orders in times of emergency to 30 days unless extended by lawmakers. It would apply to orders restricting in-person meetings of schools, businesses and religious gatherings or when imposing quarantine or isolation requirements.

Republican lawmakers have complained about the length of the governor’s emergency powers. In his letter, Beshear suggested linking the timeframe of a state emergency to the corresponding federal emergency declaration, giving him additional leeway to respond to the crisis.

Beshear also proposed creating an obligation for a governor’s administration, during times of emergency, to report to a legislative committee monthly on the state of the emergency and the steps taken to deal with it. That was a response to another frequent complaint from GOP lawmakers — that they weren’t consulted as the governor devised the state’s coronavirus response.

Beshear also raised concerns in his letter about another bill that would eliminate the governor’s ability to temporarily reorganize boards, commissions, agencies and cabinets when the legislature isn’t in session. He warned those limitations could at times prevent the “faithful execution” of law and could disqualify Kentucky from some federal grants.

Another vetoed bill would require businesses and schools to comply either with COVID-19 guidelines from the governor or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They could follow whichever standard was least restrictive. Republican lawmakers said that would instill greater certainty to keep businesses and schools open as the battle against the virus continues.