Lawmakers override Beshear's line-item budget vetoes

by Associated Press
| April 15, 2020 3:27 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers passed legislation giving the state's attorney general regulatory power over abortion clinics during a hectic final day of this year's legislative session.

Earlier in the day, the Republican-led House and Senate voted to override the Democratic governor's line-item vetoes of spending and revenue bills.

The Senate also confirmed all but one of Gov. Andy Beshear’s appointments to the state school board, accepting the continuity of a new board amid the coronavirus outbreak that closed schools. And lawmakers added another proposed constitutional amendment to this year's fall ballot.

Lawmakers took final action on stacks of bills to cap a session shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. They ended their work about 15 minutes before the midnight deadline.

The debate on the abortion proposals sparked contention debate in the final hours of the session.

The legislation would expand the power of the state’s anti-abortion attorney general, Republican Daniel Cameron, to take civil or criminal action against abortion facilities.

Under current law, the attorney general needs authorization from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services before taking such action against abortion clinics. The proposal would give the attorney general independent authority on such matters.

Legislation winning final passage also would require doctors and other health workers to provide life-sustaining care for an infant born alive after a failed abortion attempt.

Two abortion-rights groups, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, immediately urged the governor to veto the legislation. The groups denounced the legislation as a “blatant power grab" meant to make it harder for women to obtain abortions.

Beshear supports abortion rights but backs “reasonable restrictions,” especially on late-term procedures.

With the legislative session ending, lawmakers will not have a chance to override Beshear vetoes of any bills passed during the two-day wrap-up session ending Wednesday.

Earlier Wednesday, Republican lawmakers pushed aside the governor's line-item vetoes of state spending bills as they started putting the finishing touches on the legislative session.

The House and Senate voted to override selective vetoes that Beshear made to the one-year executive branch budget bill as well as other budget and revenue bills. Lawmakers opted for the one-year spending plan, instead of the traditional two-year budget, because state revenues are expected to tumble as the economy is damaged by the coronavirus.

Beshear's vetoes did not remove any specific appropriations, his office said. Instead, the new governor struck language that would “limit his flexibility” to respond to the coronavirus crisis or would “hamper the normal activities” of state government, his office said.

House Democrats continued that line of argument in unsuccessfully defending Beshear’s vetoes.

“Our concern is that we’re tying his hands to be able to ... confront this matter," Democratic Rep. Derrick Graham said.

House budget committee chairman Steven Rudy said the legislature has given Beshear considerable leeway in responding to the public health crisis.

Lawmakers also gave final approval Wednesday to a proposed constitutional amendment headed to the November ballot for Kentucky voters to decide.

The proposal would increase the terms for commonwealth’s attorneys from six years to eight years and increase the experience requirement to be a district judge from two to eight years.

It became the second ballot measure approved by lawmakers. On Tuesday, they gave final approval to a proposal that, if ratified by voters, would add a series of crime victims’ rights to the state's constitution.

Wednesday was the 53rd day of the session that began in early January. The session was scheduled to last 60 days but was shortened due to the virus outbreak.