TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

January 30, 2014

Lawmakers seek more authority to overrule regulations

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

Some Kentucky lawmakers want to amend the Kentucky Constitution to give lawmakers more authority to overrule regulations by the Executive Branch.

But there is disagreement about how to go about it.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, and championed by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, would ask voters to approve an amendment allowing the General Assembly to overturn such regulations even when the legislature isn’t in session.

Currently, a legislative committee reviews all proposed regulations implementing laws passed by the General Assembly. The committee can find them “deficient,” but the governor or agency may implement the regulation anyway. Once the General Assembly is in session, it can overturn the regulation by majority votes in both chambers.

But Stivers wants the ability “to stop it dead in its tracks” when lawmakers think a regulation is contrary to the legislative intent of the law they passed.

Tom FitzGerald, an attorney and head of the Kentucky Resources Council, opposes the measure and told Bowen’s State Government Committee Wednesday that instances of the implementation of regulations found deficient “is extremely rare.”

He said of 434 regulations in 2013, only three were implemented after being found deficient; none were in 2012; and only one in 2011. Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, countered it had happened 21 times since 2000.

Fitzgerald also questioned placing such authority in the hands of a small group of lawmakers rather than the entire General Assembly.

That was the concern as well of Sen. R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, who questioned “ceding this responsibility to a small group of legislators.”

Stivers, who testified in support of the bill and answered nearly all of the lawmakers’ questions about Bowen’s bill, said the measure didn’t specify how the legislature might overrule implemented regulations but simply asks voters to approve their authority to do so. He said the process could be determined after the amendment passes.

“So, we’re going to pass a constitutional amendment and then say we’ll figure out how to do it?” Palmer asked, adding that the General Assembly has “that ability right now. We can file legislation and overturn those regulations.”

Stivers agreed, but said that authority exists only because the General Assembly is in session. It couldn’t do anything to stop regulations in December or in July or anytime when it is not in session.

Palmer and Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, also questioned placing that level of authority in a committee, perhaps with as few as eight people on it. Again, Stivers responded the process hadn’t been determined and it conceivably be placed in the hands of a larger group, perhaps even the 16-member Legislative Research Commission which is comprised of party leaders from both chambers of the legislature.

Republicans have harshly criticized Gov. Steve Beshear for implementing regulations for the Kynect health exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act and for implementing the Common Core standards in education.

Bowen’s measure passed 7-4 with all the Republicans voting for it and all the Democrats voting against it.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he agreed “with the concept,” but also questioned placing the authority for overturning regulations into the hands of a small body or committee. He also said he believed the change can be accomplished without a constitutional amendment.

He said he didn’t know if the measure would receive a hearing in a House committee should it pass the Senate, which it’s likely to do because Republicans hold a super-majority of 23 members in the Senate.

“But I do believe the legislature has a legitimate role in seeing that agencies don’t overstep their boundaries by effecting regulations that have the force of law,” Stumbo said.

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