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Kentucky governor challenges law that limits his power over appointments to ethics commission

Democrat Governor Andy Beshear had previously vetoed the law but the veto was overridden by the Republican majority in the state Legislature.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CN) — Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear is challenging a new law that strips him of the ability to appoint most members of a state ethic commission and grants that power to the state’s constitutional officers.

Until the passage of House Bill 334, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission consisted of five members who were all appointed by the state’s governor who also had the ability to remove appointments to the commission for just cause.

The EBEC’s mission according to its website is to, “promote the ethical conduct of elected officials, officers and other employees in the executive branch of state government.”

If the law goes into effect on July 14, the EBEC will be expanded to a seven-member team, with Beshear only getting to make two appointments. The state’s Treasurer, Auditor of Public Accounts, Commissioner of Agriculture, Secretary of State and Attorney General would appoint one member each under the new law.

The lawsuit was filed on Thursday and argues that HB 334 should be shot down because it limits the governor’s ability to carry out his constitutional duty of executing the state’s laws.

“By stripping the Governor of his executive authority to appoint the majority of the members of the Commission and giving it to officers who are not the Chief Magistrate, HB 334 prevents the Governor from faithfully executing the laws, as he no longer has the ability to ensure that the Commission, which is tasked with enforcing the code of ethics, properly executes the ethics laws and regulations of the state,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit points out that the state’s lt. governor, who is a Democrat, would be the only constitutional officer who does not get an appointment to the commission, and claims that the new configuration of the commission could be used for political attacks.

“As such, under HB 334 the Commission could launch politically-motivated investigations that have no merit and reach conclusions and impose civil penalties in those matters, and the Governor has no power to rectify such conduct to ensure the law is followed,” the lawsuit states.

HB 334 also transfers the ability to remove members of the commission to the office that appointed them, meaning that the governor could only remove members that they appointed. This coupled with the other language of the bill is why Beshear called the bill an unconstitutional “power grab by the General Assembly” in his veto letter.

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, who is one of the listed defendants of the lawsuit, released a statement criticizing Beshear’s lawsuit, calling it “unexpected.”

“This unexpected lawsuit pertains to House Bill 334, a good-government bill that prevents a governor from stacking the ethics commission with his cronies by allocating appoints among the constitutional officers,” Adams wrote.  “The Governor is at his best on the occasions when he counts out of partisan bunker, recognizes we are a two-party state, and treats others with respect. Vetoes and lawsuits, no matter how numerous, are not governing.”

Commission member David Karem joined Beshear as a plaintiff on the lawsuit and claims that the law would improperly remove him from the commission prior to the end of his four-year term. Karem was appointed to the commission by Beshear.

Last month, Beshear filed a lawsuit taking aim at two other bills passed by the state’s General Assembly. In that case the governor claims that the two laws encroach upon his powers by limiting the ability to challenge unconstitutional laws passed by the General Assembly and by restricting his financial powers.

Beshear’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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