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Judge Halts Bills Targeting Governor's Authority, But The Battle Continues

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AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File
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Wednesday marked a win for the Beshear administration in court with the temporary halt of several Republican-led efforts to curb the governor's authority. But it's only the latest development in an escalating tug-of-war between the governor and the General Assembly.

There bipartisan stars aligned briefly this session, most notably on the issue of rescuing historical horse racing games in the commonwealth and a decision to drop impeachment petitions, but the overall dynamic has been one of tension between an overwhelmingly Republican legislature and a lone Democratic governor.

"Whether it's emergency powers or the governor's office of agriculture policy," Beshear said there are "a number of other bills out there about stripping governors — this governor — of authority that every other governor has had."

This week, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd temporarily stopped the implementation of three major priority bills designed to rein in the executive, which are likely to end up before the state Supreme Court.

But the legislature has made it clear they believe correcting what they see as this governor's excesses as a mandate from the voters. Take Senate President Pro Tempore David Givens' recent floor speech blasting the administration over its handling of the unemployment crisis.

"We cannot legislate that the executive branch function efficiently or effectively," the leading Republican argued. "We can't legislate that. It's up to them." 

Yet Republicans have aimed their sights on more than emergency powers, weighing bills that limit the governor's choices when picking a U.S. Senate replacement and moving enforcement of abortion laws from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general, among other priorities.

It's a dynamic playing out across the country, as the National Conference of State Legislatures reports lawmakers in at least 40 states are considering more than 200 bills or resolutions 2021 targeting emergency executive powers.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.