Legislature overrides governor’s vetoes

Published 2:45 pm Monday, April 15, 2024

By Sarah Michels 

Bluegrass Live


Kentucky lawmakers were busy undoing Gov. Andy Beshear’s work Friday, on the penultimate day of session.

The Senate and the House took turns overriding nearly all of Beshear’s vetoes.

House Bill 5: Safer Kentucky Act

The Safer Kentucky Act is a wide-ranging bill increasing criminal penalties, creating new crimes and lengthening sentences.

While there is no official fiscal impact statement, several independent analyses have estimated the cost at over a billion dollars across the next decade. Bill detractors have argued HB5 will hamstring counties which will have to spend significantly more on their jails.

Opponents have also zeroed in on the bill’s street camping ban. It criminalizes street camping on public or private streets, areas under bridges or underpasses, in front of businesses, on private property, in parks or any other area designated for use by pedestrians or vehicles.

After an initial warning, unlawful camping would be a misdemeanor. A proposed amendment would have required officers to refer people cited for unlawful camping to services like homeless shelters and mental health resources, but it failed.

The extensive bill would also create a separate carjacking statute, allow murder weapons to be destroyed instead of auctioned off, and add seven offenses to the violent offenders list, which requires convicted people to serve 85% of their sentences before potential early release.

Beshear said he supported some aspects of the bill, but could not in good conscience sign a bill that would “virtually criminalize homelessness, and would treat an abandoned car better than a car that had a person in it.”

Louisville Democrat Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong asked lawmakers where homeless people are supposed to go.

“I’m imagining when an officer goes up to someone who has nowhere else to go and says, ‘You have to cease being here,’ the person says, ‘Where can I go?’ The answer under this bill is nowhere,” Armstrong said.

“…When you’re charged with a misdemeanor, that doesn’t help someone who is vulnerable. That doesn’t help someone who is struggling. It adds numerous other barriers to whatever situation you’re dealing with.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, who significantly contributed to the final version of the bill, said HB5 will make a more “just” Kentucky.

“If it’s costing us too much money, maybe we oughta look at the way we run our prison systems, and why they’re costing us that much money,” he said.

Both chambers easily overrode Beshear’s veto.

House Bill 7: Autonomous vehicles

On its second attempt, a bill establishing the regulatory framework for self-driving vehicles on Kentucky’s roads will become law.

Beshear vetoed HB7 due to safety concerns and the lack of an adequate testing period requiring a licensed human driver behind the wheel.

The bill does require a driver to be in an autonomous vehicle’s cab until August 2026, if the vehicle weighs at least 62,000 pounds. However, this weight criteria does not include smaller vehicles like cars and school buses.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said autonomous vehicles will increase safety, improve workforce conditions and help mobility issues among seniors, visually impaired and others. It is also a critical step in getting companies to invest in Kentucky, he said.

Armstrong disagreed.

“More people will die,” she said. “More families in Kentucky will lose loved ones. And for what? What is the trade off we are making with the safety and the lives of the people of our state?”

The budget 

Both chambers overrode all but one of Beshear’s line item vetoes related to the budget.

Beshear’s many line item vetoes included removing caps on emergency and disaster spending, limits on unexpected inmate population costs and a requirement for further studies before funding can go to the Office of Medicinal Cannabis.

The only veto not overridden concerned an “unfunded mandate” requiring extensive reporting on coal mine reclamation sites.

Other overridden vetoes

The legislature overrode Beshear’s veto of House Bill 622, which requires a special election in the case of a U.S. Senate vacancy.

A few years ago, vacancies would have been filled by governor appointment until the next statewide election. However, in 2021, the majority Republican legislature amended the process to give governors less power.

The 2021 bill stated that the governor could appoint a replacement from a list of three names submitted by the political party of the outgoing U.S. senator.

Democratic opponents argue that the governor has always had appointment power, while Republican supporters say the people should choose their representatives, not the governor.

Several energy-related vetoes were overridden.

Senate Bill 349 establishes the Energy Planning and Inventory Commission to create a comprehensive energy strategy.

While Kentucky’s Public Service Commission already decides whether to retire fossil fuel-fired plants, the new commission will have to be consulted before that can happen.

Opponents say the board is stacked with special interest groups that favor fossil fuels. Supporters say Kentucky needs to fight back against premature retirement of fossil fuel plants to ensure reliable power.

Vetoes of Senate Bill 198, which establishes the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority, and House Bill 581, which bans special treatment for electric vehicle charging stations at retail filling stations, were also overridden.

House Bill 513, which requires General Assembly approval of any permanent statues in the Capitol Rotunda, was vetoed, and subsequently overridden. Beshear said it was just the next in a series of attempts to take away power from the executive branch, which now decides on art.

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said the bill is “not healthy for the Commonwealth” and is about the removal of a statue of notorious Confederacy president Jefferson Davis in 2020.

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Middletown, objected, calling that “slander” against the bill’s sponsor and said it had nothing to do with the Davis statue removal.

“We are elected by the people, not the group that’s appointed by the governor,” Nemes said.