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Lawmakers advance bill to undo remake of state school board

Posted: 6:32 AM, Mar 06, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-06 06:32:57-05
Kentucky General Assembly 2020

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A bill aimed at undoing Gov. Andy Beshear's overhaul of the Kentucky state school board won initial approval Thursday, threatening to move conflict between the new Democratic governor and Republicans looking to diminish his power further out into the open.

The measure, which passed a Senate committee, would prevent any governor from ordering a sweeping reorganization of the board that oversees Kentucky’s K-12 education system. It's a response to action Beshear took on his first day in office to disband and then recreate the Kentucky Board of Education, fulfilling a pledge he made during the governor's race last year.

Beshear was swept into office last year with strong support from public school teachers. He had expressed concerns about the previous board’s affinity for charter schools.

All of the governor’s appointees were Democrats, which drew the ire of Republican lawmakers.

Senate President Robert Stivers responded with his bill that would ensure political, gender and racial diversity on the state school board.

The Senate Education Committee advanced the measure on a party-line vote Thursday, with Democratic members opposing it. The bill heads to the full Senate next.

Stivers said his bill was about policy, not politics.

“People sometimes say it was something directed at Gov. Andy Beshear," the Senate leader said. “No, it is not. It is about institutional integrity of the systems."

The bill is needed to prevent any governor from immediately revamping the education board's membership any time he disagrees with them, Stivers said.

Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas questioned the timing of GOP objections to the governor's power. He noted that former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin reorganized several education boards.

“During the course of his tenure as governor ... we never saw in the Senate one bill that sought to limit or curtail his executive authority to do those things," Thomas said. “We all understood that as governor, he was in charge and elections have consequences."

Under the bill, Beshear’s appointees would lose their seats but could be reconsidered for reappointment. It calls for “proportional representation” among Democrats and Republicans based on voter registration numbers. As a result, not all of Beshear’s appointees could be reappointed.

Beshear's office has said he assembled “the best qualified" school board in recent memory.

Since the new board was installed, the state’s previous education commissioner resigned under pressure and the board has taken initial steps toward the search for the next education chief. The board also denied an appeal from a group that wants to open a charter school.

Beshear's action to revamp the board's membership drew a court challenge from ousted board members appointed by Bevin. Several judges have left Beshear's executive order intact.

The bill is one of several filed by Republican lawmakers to rein in some of the governor's powers.

Beshear has pushed back against another bill that would limit his power in appointing the state transportation secretary. Under the measure, the governor’s choice for transportation secretary would be limited to a list of candidates submitted by a newly created transportation board.

Another bill would strip the governor’s power to reorganize the Kentucky Human Rights Commission.

Beshear expressed frustration with those measures this week. He told reporters lawmakers should follow the mantra of “leaving more of our (political) party at home and bringing more of the values from home to Frankfort."

A newly introduced bill would limit the governor’s ability to issue executive orders.

The new process would require the executive orders to be referred to a House or Senate committee during a legislative session or an interim joint committee between legislative sessions, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. The committee would have 30 days to object to the order with a vote of the majority of the committee’s members.

If an objection is raised to an executive order, it would be made unenforceable unless it is passed by both legislative chambers and signed by the governor like any other bill.