Franklin Circuit Court

FRANKFORT, Ky, (AP) — A Republican-backed bill aimed at bypassing a circuit court traditionally assigned high-profile cases involving Kentucky state government has been vetoed by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

In a veto message issued Wednesday, Beshear said the attempt to steer cases away from the Franklin County Circuit Court reflected “legislative dissatisfaction with the duly elected judges and their rulings."

“Changing well-settled legal procedure for this reason is bad policy, and sets a precedent for changing state law based on who is or is not in certain elected positions,” he said.

Former GOP Gov. Matt Bevin and other Republicans have complained for years about rulings by Franklin circuit court judges in high-stakes cases dealing with constitutional issues. A Franklin Circuit judge drew Bevin’s ire for his decision that struck down a pension law backed by the governor. The state Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

GOP lawmakers have the numbers if they decide to override the veto when they resume their session next month. Lawmakers completed fast-track work on the measure in the opening days of this year's session. The bill would change how lawsuits involving state government are handled.

Under the measure, cases dealing with the constitutionality of state law, executive orders or administrative regulations would be heard in the plaintiff’s home county. Those cases now are traditionally tried in Franklin Circuit Court, in the state capital of Frankfort.

The bill's supporters have framed it as an undue inconvenience for plaintiffs to incur the expense of traveling to Frankfort to press their cases against state government.

“Is it really fair that people should always have to come to the Franklin County circuit when it’s dealing with a constitutional question in their state?” Republican Sen. Wil Schroder said during a debate. “If anyone should have to travel to defend it, in my opinion, it should be the state (attorneys), not the individual, or not the business that has a problem.”

Beshear countered in his veto message that the bill would create “substantial costs” for taxpayers in terms of travel and staffing for agencies defending the state in cases tried elsewhere in Kentucky.

Such cases would remain in Franklin Circuit Court when the plaintiffs aren’t Kentucky residents.

The court-related measure is the latest Republican priority bill to be rebuffed by the governor.

Earlier this week, Beshear vetoed bills meant to restrict his emergency powers. The governor said the measures would hamper the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19. Republican lawmakers accuse Beshear of overreaching with coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses, schools and individuals.

The governor also vetoed a measure that would give the state’s anti-abortion attorney general new power to regulate abortion clinics.

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