In addition to approving bills to toughen heroin laws and to make Kentucky a “right-to-work” state, the Republican-controlled Kentucky Senate Friday hastily approved a proposed amendment to the state constitution before heading home for a month. However, the chances of Kentucky voters being able to weigh in on the amendment in November of 2016 are extremely long, and those backing the amendment know it.
With the amendment receiving no support from Senate Democrats, it is expected to die in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives without House members even voting on it. After all, that is what happened to a nearly identical amendment in the 2014 General Assembly.
In our view, that is exactly what should happen to this newest attempt to amend the state constitution. If placed on the ballot and approved by voters, the amendment would shift too much power from the governor to Senate committees and those senators who chair them. As we see it, there is no reason to change the status quo because there are ways in place for legislators to overturn executive orders they dislike.
Sen. Tom Buford of Nicholasville was the only Republican to vote against the amendment. That’s because the veteran legislator recognizes the current system is working well and Republican senators likely would have a quite different view of administrative regulations if a Republican were governor instead of Democrat Steve Beshear.
The proposed constitutional amendment would, if approved, permit a legislative committee to veto administrative regulations formulated by the executive branch.
Administrative regulations are written by executive branch agencies to implement legislation passed by the General Assembly. A committee of lawmakers reviews those regulations to make sure they comply with the intent of the law to which they apply.
The committee can find the regulation “deficient,” but the executive branch agency may implement them anyway — at least temporarily. Regulations deemed deficient may be overturned by votes of both chambers of the General Assembly during its next session. One would think if legislators really had a serious problem with an administrative regulation, they would move to overturn it, but that rarely happens or is even attempted. Because of that, one could conclude even Republican legislators are reasonably satisfied with the administrative regulations issued by the Democratic administration.
The proposed amendment would allow a legislative committee — without a vote of the entire legislature — to veto the regulations and prohibit the executive branch from implementing the regulations if it did.
Democrats rightfully claim the measure “damages the balance of power” between the three branches of government, as Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson, said on the Senate floor Friday. He also pointed out that out of hundreds of such regulations, only a handful are ever found deficient — and those can be dealt with under the current constitutional provision.
Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, however, responded that the current system allows the governor to implement regulations which the people’s elected representatives oppose with little recourse. He also claimed “we’ve got executive orders with no legislative authority.” That was likely a reference to Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive order expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Republicans objected, saying the legislature hadn’t authorized the expansion but a court later upheld the governor’s power to do so based on a law which directs the governor to take advantage of or maximize offers of federal funding. Under the ACA, the federal government pays for 100 percent of the expansion in its first year which after three years drops to 90 percent of the cost. (The federal government pays 70 percent of the cost of traditional Medicaid in Kentucky.)
In our view, the governor made the right decision in allowing the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Thousands of low-income Kentucky families now have Medicaid because of it, and it has yet to cost the state anything. While many Kentuckians oppose Obamacare, a poor state like Kentucky would have been foolish not to take full advantage of the new law. Other states whose leaders for political reasons refused to sign up for the expanded Medicaid are denying their residents access to affordable medical care.
Former Gov. Julian Carroll, now a state senator representing Frankfort, was joined by Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, in contending the proposed amendment would create “a concentration of power in just one committee or agency (of the legislature).” Carroll and Webb are right, and that is one of many reasons to oppose this proposed amendment. Chances are the amendment will die a quiet death in the House of Representatives and we will hear no more about it in 2015. When legislators return again in 2016, a Republican may be governor. If so, our bet is the GOP will have lost its passion for the amendment and will not even propose it. After all, why would Republicans want to weaken the power of their governor?