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Politics

Beshear signs religious rights bill as Kentucky veto period continues

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Stephanie Wolf
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Gov. Andy Beshear has signed or vetoed several bills that passed out of the Kentucky Statehouse as legislators take a break at the end of this year’s lawmaking session.

The governor’s 10-day “veto period” began last Thursday and will continue until next Wednesday, when lawmakers return to consider overriding Beshear’s vetoes or passing any last-minute bills.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Beshear still hadn’t acted on controversial bills dealing with the state budget, abortion restrictions, charter school funding or tightening requirements for public assistance.

But there’s still plenty of time for the Democratic governor to consider how to respond to the Republican-led legislature’s priorities.

If Beshear doesn’t sign or veto bills by April 13, they will automatically become law without his signature.

Here’s some of what Beshear has signed or rejected at this point during the veto period.

Signed:

Beshear signed a bill allowing houses of worship to sue state and local governments for restricting services during states of emergency. House Bill 43 was filed in response to Beshear’s actions early on in the coronavirus pandemic, when he imposed crowd restrictions and business closures, including churches, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. The ACLU opposed the bill, saying “it could be construed to provide unprecedented criminal and civil immunity for religious organizations.”

Last week Beshear signed Senate Bill 8, which is intended to combat child abuse in the state. The measure broadens the rights of children in foster care, providing access to records once they turn 18 and allowing them to request placement where they feel safe and accepted.

Beshear also signed House Bill 397, which waives up to 15 school days for districts affected by December’s tornado outbreak. Supporters of the bill said it’s necessary to make sure students and teachers don’t have to stay in school into the summer to make up attendance or fulfill contracts.

Vetoed:

Beshear vetoed House Bill 388, which empowers the state treasurer to make final decisions on some state contracts and tax incentives. Currently the legislature’s Government Contract Review Committee can recommend canceling contracts, but the state’s Finance Cabinet secretary, a member of the governor’s administration, can overrule the decisions. Under the new measure, the secretary’s decision can be appealed to the treasurer, an office currently held by Republican Allison Ball.

An example of how this bill could change things in Frankfort: the Contract Review Committee threatened to cancel contracts with California companies as retribution for that state banning official travel to Kentucky over anti-LGBTQ issues. However, those attempts didn’t proceed because they were tamped down by Beshear’s administration.

In his veto message, Beshear said the bill violates the state constitution be giving contracting authority to the treasurer, “rendering the Governor no longer ‘supreme.’”

A similar measure passed out of the legislature last year but was blocked by Franklin Circuit Court on procedural grounds. Supporters hope this year’s version of the bill will be upheld, though the court never ruled on the constitutionality of the measure.

Earlier in the year, Beshear vetoed several bills, and the legislature quickly voted to override his actions.

The governor rejected, and the legislature re-approved:

House Bill 4, which cuts unemployment insurance benefits.

Senate Joint Resolution 150, which ended the pandemic-related state of emergency, costing Kentucky about $50 million in federal food assistance.

And House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3, the redistricting bills for all 100 seats in the state House of Representatives and all six of Kentucky’s congressional seats. The Kentucky Democratic Party sued to block those bills and a trial is ongoing in Franklin Circuit Court.

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