Republican lawmakers, armed with veto-proof power because of their supermajorities, wasted no time in showing it off on the opening day of the 2021 General Assembly.
Republican leaders put some of their priority bills in motion on Tuesday. Those priorities are to limit the emergency powers of Gov. Andy Beshear, fight for the unborn, and protect businesses from COVID-19 liability.
The plan is to have at least some of the priority bills passed and in their hip pocket before the three-week break at the beginning of the short session. Ten bills were looked upon as priorities although all of them may not pass before the break.
House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said the legislature could amend the schedule and stay in session on Saturday or even into next week, if necessary, before breaking until February.
“I think it’s important to get in here and do work,” Osborne said. “I think you will see us take action on some major issues before the end of the week.”
Republican leadership came into the session determined to be heard after feeling they were sidelined from any decision-making by Gov. Andy Beshear during the pandemic.
Democrats can only watch as bills are getting fast-tracked around them with the Republicans holding all the cards in the House and Senate.
A judiciary committee has already passed House Bill 2, which restricts abortion and was vetoed last year by Beshear, and House Bill 3, which goes around Franklin Circuit Court and instead favors using three-judge panels from across the state.
House Bill 1, one of the priority pieces of legislation dealing with the powers of the legislative and executive branch, would prevent the state from shutting down schools and businesses that are compliant with CDC guidelines on COVID-19. Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, sponsored the bill.
HB 5 would prohibit governors from issuing executive orders temporarily reorganizing state boards "to meet political agendas," said sponsor Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland.
“Historically, governors have reorganized boards to meet political agendas, leaving legislators minimal opportunity to weigh in on changes that can lead to increased costs or inefficiencies,” he said. “The five previous governors used executive orders to reorganize a cabinet, agency, or board a total of 446 times. To date, the current governor has used an executive order for 20 similar reorganizations.”
HB 5 would require the governor, the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership, and other elected state executive officers to propose changes to the executive branch government organizational structure in a reorganization plan to be filed with the Legislative Research Commission for the General Assembly approval.
The current statute states the executive branch may enact temporary reorganizational measures if the General Assembly is not in session.
In the Senate, five bills were being fast-tracked including Senate Bill 1 that would put a 30-day expiration date on any executive orders issued by the governor during an emergency unless approved by the legislature. Bill sponsor Sen. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro, said in a floor speech the bill will ensure the state has checks and balances on a governor’s executive orders.
SB 2, sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, would provide more legislative oversight of administrative regulations put in place by executive branch agencies.
SB 3, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, would transfer the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy to the office of Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. It also would remove Democratic Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman from the Kentucky Council on Agriculture.
SB 5, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, limits the liability of businesses during emergencies, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, introduced SB 9 that would require doctors to provide life-saving care to infants who have survived abortions. Beshear vetoed the bill last year and the legislature did not have time to consider his veto.
Beshear will give his one-year budget proposal in his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night at 7.