New bill would strip AG's office of some powers; Beshear calls it 'vindictive'

New bill would strip AG's office of some powers; Beshear calls it 'vindictive'
Sen. President Robert Stivers (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Sen. President Robert Stivers (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Gov. Matt Bevin (Source: Dale Mader, WAVE 3 News)
Gov. Matt Bevin (Source: Dale Mader, WAVE 3 News)
The Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort (Source: Dale Mader/WAVE 3 News)
The Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort (Source: Dale Mader/WAVE 3 News)

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - A revised bill would strip Kentucky's attorney general of powers and give them to the governor.

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In a committee meeting in Frankfort on Wednesday, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Clay, presented the committee substitute, or new version, of a bill.

"This is what I would call somewhat of a teaching moment," Stivers said in the Senate Judiciary committee.

His version would only allow the attorney general to sue in five types of cases, including Medicaid fraud and consumer protection, and give the rest of his civil power to the governor.

"This committee substitute represents that largest power grab since our current constitution was enacted," Attorney General Andy Beshear said in an interview. "It's dangerous."

Beshear said he sees the new version as an attack because of his suits against Gov. Matt Bevin.

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Beshear has twice sued the governor and won, including a case in which Bevin tried to cut university spending and dissolve UofL's Board of Trustees.

"There's no question that this bill was vindictive, political and personal," Beshear said. "It is a get-out-of-jail-free card."

Under the new law, Beshear couldn't bring those cases, and Bevin would be able to control his ability to appeal a case.

"This is like if somebody gets caught robbing a bank and instead of deciding, 'You know, I won't break the law and rob banks anymore,' they say, 'I'll get rid of the cops,'" Beshear said.

Added Stivers: "We can give (either office) authority. We can take authority away."

Stivers, who has a law degree, said the constitution is clear that the legislature can control the powers of executive branch officials, including the attorney general or governor.

While Beshear sees the bill as a person attack, Stivers said his motivation is the AG's refusal to defend controversial laws passed by the legislature like new restrictions on abortion.

"He tends to pick and choose which statutes, based on his personal beliefs, he wants to defend," Stivers said.

Countered Beshear: "I'm not the legislature's lawyer. I'm not the governor's lawyer. I'm the people's lawyer."

He said his view of the constitution is that the AG is a check on both offices, not a protector of them.

"If the legislature passes an unconstitutional law, it's my duty to stand up to it," Beshear said. "If the governor takes an unconstitutional or illegal act, it's my duty to stand up for it."

"We need clarity as to who is to be the voice of the commonwealth," Stivers said.

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The original bill, House Bill 281, passed the House 63-32 and added regulations to the AG's ability to contract out to attorneys and sue major corporations.

Beshear argued the bill would make it difficult to sue major corporations because contracting out to law firms provides the state with increased manpower and experience, and the firms don't collect any taxpayer money unless they win the suit.

Republicans argued the bill brings needed transparency to the spending of taxpayer money.

Beshear said he would challenge the constitutionality of the bill if it's passed.

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