Political News

Lawmakers finish work on university governing boards bill

Posted March 15

— Kentucky's Republican-led legislature handed Gov. Matt Bevin a bill Wednesday giving him and his successors more power to remove entire public university boards or individual members.

The bill, a response to upheaval at the University of Louisville, cleared its final hurdle when the House passed it 60-33. It came as lawmakers sent stacks of bills to Bevin on the final day before an extended break so the Republican governor can sign or veto legislation. Lawmakers return to Frankfort for two days at the end of March to wrap up the session.

As lawmakers met into Wednesday night, they completed work on one of the most hotly debated issues of the session — a bill creating public charter schools that would operate outside state supervision. The bill goes to Bevin, a charter schools supporter.

Lawmakers finished work on a bill to lift a ban on building nuclear power plants in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. They voted to close the gaps in checking the backgrounds of people who work with children in schools and camps and as baby sitters.

They gave final approval to a bill that would let Kentuckians purchase a "voluntary travel ID" to replace their standard drivers' license. Beginning next year, anyone without the travel ID will have to use a passport or other acceptable document to board a domestic flight or enter a U.S. military base.

The House passed a measure backed by Bevin that's aimed at making it easier for people to find work once leaving jail or prison. Under the bill, felons could no longer be automatically denied occupational licenses. Kentucky has at least 60 boards and commissions that issue licenses required for various jobs. The bill remained one step away from final passage after the House sent it back to the Senate with changes. Senators adjourned before taking a final vote, but Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said it would come up later this month.

Thayer urged his colleagues to "take a deep breath" if they had bills in the pipeline awaiting action. Their legislation could still come up in the wrap-up session, he said.

The bill setting guidelines for the governor to replace entire university boards or individual members drew debate about whether it gives too much power to the state's chief executive.

Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, said it would put board members in a tenuous position.

"I don't think we need a bunch of 'yes' people on there," he said. "I think we need some people that are not afraid to think and disagree. But if this bill becomes law, you make one disagreement, you're subject to be thrown off the board."

Republican Rep. Chad McCoy of Bardstown said the bill includes due-process protections for board members to contest attempts to remove them.

The measure, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, would clarify when and how the governor can remove individual members or entire boards. The governor could replace members when the board lacks required racial or political diversity but must first try to resolve the issue by letting terms expire and appointing new members. If that would take more than one year, the governor could replace other board members on a "last in, first out" basis.

The bill would let the governor remove members for cause, including incompetence and malfeasance. First, the state Council on Postsecondary Education would investigate and make a recommendation. The governor would not have to follow that recommendation.

The bill would set guidelines to replace an entire university governing board. Grounds for replacement would include "gross neglect of duty" or failing to meet statutory mandates.

The board would have seven days to resign or offer evidence to the postsecondary education council on why removal would be unwarranted. The council would investigate and make a nonbinding recommendation to the governor, who would then decide.

Gubernatorial appointments to university boards would be subject to Senate confirmation under the bill.

The bill is a follow-up to action taken by lawmakers in January, when they passed a bill that gave the University of Louisville its third board of trustees in a seven-month period after lawmakers agreed to abolish and replace its governing body at Bevin's behest. Bevin used that new law to reappoint almost all the people he appointed to the board last summer.

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