Beshear Holding Off Suing Bevin Over Education Board Overhauls

Jun 15, 2017

Credit Ryland Barton

Attorney General Andy Beshear said he’ll wait to decide whether to file a lawsuit against Gov. Matt Bevin over a recent reorganization of several state education boards.

The governor’s office sent Beshear a letter late Wednesday saying Bevin planned to alter the executive order, which tweaked or replaced panels like the Board of Education and Council on Postsecondary Education.

Beshear argues the reorganizations go against the state’s laws and constitution, and said he would take legal action if Bevin didn’t alter the executive order by Friday.

“My hope is that the governor has reviewed the Constitution and Kentucky law, and has realized he does not have ‘absolute authority’ over independent state boards,” Beshear said in a statement. “I will wait until Friday, but I stand ready to defend the Constitution if the governor fails to abide by it.”

If Beshear were to take legal action it would be the fourth time he has sued the governor in a little over a year.

Two of those challenges involved the governor’s overhaul of other state boards.

A trial court ruled the governor didn’t have the authority to reorganize the University of Louisville board of trustees—that case has been appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court.Beshear’s lawsuit over Bevin’s reorganization of the Kentucky Retirement Systems board is still pending.

Bevin maintains he has the authority to reorganize state boards while the legislature isn’t in session, citing a state law that allows “the creation, alteration or abolition of any organizational unit or administrative body.”

Bevin communications director Amanda Stamper defended the governor’s actions in an email earlier this week, saying previous governors used the law to reorganize agencies 357 times since 1992.

“The only reason this is ‘news’ is because Attorney General Beshear has rejected decades of precedent, and a recent legal opinion from his own office, by filing political lawsuits challenging the Governor’s use of the statute,” Stamper said.

So far Republican lawmakers have backed up the governor’s reorganization powers.

This year, the Republican-led state legislature passed a law giving the governor broad powers to reorganize the trustee boards of state universities in cases of “malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, or gross neglect of duty.”

But last week Rep. Bam Carney, the Republican chair of House Education Committee, expressed concern over Bevin’s recent reorganization of the state education boards.

“Separation of power means that the General Assembly respects the Governor’s ability to meet the demands of new legislation, but I also firmly believe in legislative independence, which provides strong checks and balances in government to ensure balance of power,” Carney said in a statement.

In an Associated Press report, Carney said the members and duties of education boards should be under the legislature’s purview.

Bevin’s changes included the appointment of four non-voting advisors to the Kentucky Board of Education and total replacement of boards that deal with certifying teachers and establishing curriculum standards.

The governor also created a Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council and appointed members to guide the board of education as it implements the new charter schools law.

Steve Pitt, the governor’s general counsel, sent a letter to Beshear on Wednesday evening saying Bevin expected to modify the executive order by Friday.