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Beshear Threatens Legal Action Over Bevin's Reorganization of Education Boards

Attorney General Andy Beshear announced Wednesday that he is demanding Gov. Matt Bevin rescind a June 2 executive order dissolving and reorganizing numerous state education boards.

Failure to do so, Beshear said, would result in legal action by the AG’s office challenging last week’s move by the governor, which the AG said mirrors conduct taken by the governor against the boards of the University of Louisville and the Kentucky Retirement Systems.

“The governor does not have absolute authority over state boards,” Beshear said. “He cannot ignore laws passed by the General Assembly that create independent boards, lay out their structure and set mandatory terms for their members. Put simply, he cannot rewrite laws he does not like through executive orders.”

Beshear said his duty is to the law and to enforce Kentucky’s system of checks and balances. The power claimed by the governor to dissolve or reorganize any state board eviscerates all checks and balances and would effectively give the governor control over all decisions of every state board, including the Registry for Election Finance or the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, he said.

“I’m especially troubled that the governor has hit Kentucky’s education system with yet another executive overreach,” Beshear said.

Last year, Beshear challenged the governor’s withholding of $18 million from Kentucky’s public colleges and universities. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in September that the money was unlawfully withheld, and stated in its decision that the job of the attorney general is “to vindicate the public rights of the people of the Commonwealth.”

Beshear’s request to the governor to rescind the June 2 executive order is not about charter schools nor is it a challenge to Senate Bill 1, he said.

In fact, Beshear said the governor’s board reorganization last week ignores and rewrites portions of Senate Bill 1, Beshear said. 

“Gov. Bevin did not veto SB 1,” Beshear said. “But now he wants to substitute his judgment for that of the General Assembly and singlehandedly change the law.”

In the June 2 executive order, the governor dissolved four statutorily-created boards, removing more than 35 members before the end of their mandatory term. He then created four new boards with the same names and duties but allowing himself to appoint all new members and the chair.

“We have seen this type of illegal behavior by the governor time and time again,” Beshear said. “My job as attorney general is to enforce the Constitution, to maintain the separation of powers and to ensure no branch of government exceeds the powers that we the people granted to it. I’m hopeful the governor will rescind his executive order and allow the education boards to properly operate under the law – without his undue influence.”

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) issued a statement against Beshear's move.

“The recent letter from Attorney General Beshear threatening to sue Governor Bevin over a reorganization is yet another example of our Attorney General picking and choosing which cases to defend and not defend on behalf of the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Stivers said. "I stand with Governor Bevin as I have in similar lawsuits in the past related to board reorganizations, and I believe this is nothing more than a political ploy from Attorney General Beshear.

"I have been in the legislature since 1997 and I don't recall any other Attorney General suing another governor this many times over KRS 12.028."
 
Bevin issued his executive order last week.
 
“The historic charter school legislation passed during this year’s General Assembly session represents a truly momentous step forward in providing quality choices for Kentucky’s most vulnerable students,” said Bevin, at the time. “This advisory council will play a vital role in ensuring the success of this exciting new educational option. Public charter schools will create the promise of real opportunity for young people and their families where hope does not currently exist.”

-Staff report

Photo: Governor Matt Bevin