Kentucky measure to let lawmakers call special session fails

Kentucky Measure To Let Lawmakers Call Special Session Fails
Timothy D. Easley - freelancer, FR43398 AP

FILE - The exterior of the Kentucky state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., is pictured on April 7, 2021. Kentucky voters delivered a setback to Republican lawmakers in their pursuit of more power, rejecting a proposed constitutional amendment that would have let the legislature call itself into special session on topics of its choosing.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky voters delivered a setback to Republican lawmakers in their pursuit of more power, rejecting a proposed constitutional amendment that would have let the legislature call itself into special session on topics of its choosing.

The outcome of the election that concluded Tuesday means governors will continue wielding sole authority in Kentucky to convene special legislative sessions and set the agenda. Lawmakers will continue being limited to passing bills in special sessions within parameters set by the governor.

Republican lawmakers pressed for the measure, seeking to share a power held by the executive branch of state government, currently led by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. The governor, who is seeking a second term next year, had denounced the measure as a “power grab” by GOP lawmakers and said it would disrupt the traditional separation of powers.

The measure also would have allowed lawmakers to meet in regular sessions longer into the year — though the total number of legislative days would have remained the same: 30 in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. With the measure’s defeat, lawmakers will continue to wrap up their regular sessions by the end of March in odd-numbered years and by mid-April in even-numbered years.

Kentucky lawmakers have increasingly flexed their policymaking power. But statewide voters on Tuesday blocked the lawmakers’ bid for expanded powers to reconvene in special sessions.

The outcome was welcomed by Eric Hyers, who led an effort opposing the measure.

“This amendment would have undercut the checks and balances in Kentucky’s constitution, and we are proud of our effort to defeat it,” said Hyers, who was Beshear’s campaign manager in the 2019 governor’s race.

GOP lawmakers said the ballot proposal stemmed from a backlash against Beshear’s handling of the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, lawmakers were unable to respond as the governor put restrictions on businesses and gatherings to try to contain the virus. Once they were back in a regular session, lawmakers reined in the governor’s emergency powers to fight the pandemic. Beshear says his actions, coming when there were no vaccines to combat the virus, saved lives.

Senate President Pro Tem David Givens had said allowing lawmakers to reassemble on their own would have reflected a “true balance” of power and let them respond to public demands.

Under the proposal, lawmakers could have reconvened for a special session through a joint proclamation by the House speaker and Senate president. Lawmakers could have chosen the topics. They could have only met for a maximum of 12 days per calendar year in such sessions.