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Ky Politics Distilled: Friday the 13th Edition

State lawmakers were on a break this week after approving a handful of major conservative polices over last weekend. Effects of the new abortion restrictions, union regulations and an overhaul of University of Louisville’s trustee board began to take shape. Plus, Gov. Matt Bevin released an investigation alleging corruption in previous Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration.  

Capitol reporter Ryland Barton has more in this week’s edition of Kentucky Politics Distilled.

Out of the gates, The ACLU and the last abortion provider in the state announced they were going to sue over the new ultrasound abortion law. It requires doctors to conduct an ultrasound on women seeking abortions and narrate a description of the unborn fetus.

The groups argue the new law violates women’s right to privacy and the free speech rights of doctors and patients.

Similar laws have been struck down in other states and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up an appeal of one of those rulings in North Carolina. But a more conservative high court, which we might see under incoming President Donald Trump, might be more willing to take up the case.

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear is named as a defendant in that suit. He says he’ll represent the state in the case, but, Beshear says he will NOT defend a new law banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Though the law hasn’t been challenged yet, Beshear said it’s unconstitutional.

He drew fire from Gov. Bevin, who said Beshear isn’t fulfilling his official duties for political reasons.

Beshear’s refusal to defend the law hearkens back to 2014 when then-Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage after a federal court ruled against it. The case was appealed and later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In other Bevin versus Beshear news, the governor released an investigation alleging members of former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration—yes, that of Andy’s father— shook down of state workers for campaign contributions.

The probe relied on 16 interviews with state workers who refused to be named. They said supervisors pressured workers to contribute to political campaigns and made “veiled threats of job termination” if they didn’t make donations.

Gov. Beshear called the investigation a “political hatchet job.” Attorney General Andy Beshear was named as a recipient of some of the donations. He said the law firm that conducted the investigation should investigate Republican officials as well.

“I would suggest that if the law firm is going to stick around and if they’re supposed to stick around and if they’re supposed to be looking at ethics, they ought to be looking at the ethics of everybody and not just the governor’s perceived political enemies.”

Candidates and political parties can’t specifically target state employees to make campaign donations under state law.

The Bevin administration awarded a $500,000 contract for the firm that conducted the investigation.

Finally, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools said this week that Gov. Matt Bevin’s overhaul of the University of Louisville’s board of trustees last summer is the reason the school’s accreditation was put on probation.

The organization said that by overhauling the board, Bevin effectively dismissed all of the trustees without justification and said he also improperly negotiated the resignation of former U of L president James Ramsey.

Bevin has insisted SACS’ decision to place U of L on probation was not the result of his board overhaul, and even after the agency’s explanation, the governor’s spokeswoman stuck to her guns.

The organization was silent on how another reorganization of the UofL board, which passed the legislature and was signed by the governor last weekend, would affect the school’s accreditation.

But in an email sent to UofL and obtained by the Courier-Journal, the vice president of SACS said the legislation “does appear to be moving in the direction of clarifying the process for reorganization.”

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. Always looking to put a face to big issues,Ryland'sreporting has taken him to drought-weary towns in West Texas and relocated communities in rural China. He's covered breaking news like the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base and the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
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