The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kentucky Republicans aim to reel in governor’s power in wake of Obamacare

In this April 5, 2013 file photo, Gov. Steve Beshear discusses his veto of a Medicaid bill in Frankfort, Ky. (Roger Alford/AP, File)

Few governors have embraced the Affordable Care Act as openly and ambitiously as Kentucky’s Steve Beshear (D). Even though he faced a skeptical legislature, one chamber of which is controlled by Republicans, Beshear used his executive power both to expand Medicaid and to set up a state-run exchange.

Now, top Kentucky Republicans want to rein in the governor’s power to issue new regulations, a move that could limit Beshear’s power during his final two years in office.

The legislature already has the power to deem a regulation issued by the executive branch deficient. But that power comes without an enforcement mechanism: A Kentucky governor can implement the regulation anyway. Under a proposed amendment to the Commonwealth’s constitution that state Senate President Robert Stivers (R) says he will offer, the legislature would gain the power to overturn a proposed regulation.

“There’s been this friction, naturally, between the legislature and the executive branch, which there should be,” Stivers said in an interview Friday. “The legislative branch institutes policy, and the governor executes policy. Part of that ability to execute on the policy is the ability to draft regulations.”

“What I’m planning on doing is introducing a bill that would basically say, if we find a regulation deficient, then it can’t be instituted,” he said. “The rationale being, we set the policy, and the governor, whomever it may be, creates or drafts a reg that we don’t believe is in conformity with the intent of the legislation, then we can draw that reg back in.”

Highlighting the priority Stivers places on the bill, it could become Senate Bill 1, the first measure introduced when the Kentucky legislature comes back into session on Tuesday.

Stivers said the proposed amendment is not aimed squarely at the Affordable Care Act.

“We’ve had this discussion on several occasions as it relates to education regs, environmental regs. It has come up again based on health care,” he said. “It’s an institutional argument and the institutional integrity of the legislative branch as it relates to the executive branch.”

Executive agencies in Kentucky issue about 700 regulations a year relating to implementation of laws passed by the legislature, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. A legislative committee has the power to review those regulations, but no power to stop them, barring further legislation. The Kentucky Supreme Court created the system with a ruling in the early 1980s that the legislature didn’t have the power to stop an executive action.

The legislative panel currently requires five votes from its eight members — four Democrats and four Republicans — to declare a regulation deficient. Stivers’s proposal wouldn’t change the makeup of the panel, but it would give it the power to block a new regulation.

If approved by the legislature, the proposed amendment would be placed on Kentucky’s fall 2014 ballot. Senate Republicans support the measure, but its fate is less clear in the House, where Democrats maintain a slim majority. State House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) did not say whether he supports the specific proposal, but he told the Herald-Leader he backs “the principle of the legislature having oversight with regard to government agencies.”

Beshear’s decision to embrace the health-care law has won widespread attention, given Kentucky’s red hue — and new fans: More than 116,000 state residents had enrolled in health-care coverage through the state exchange, Beshear’s office said Monday.

That’s a little more than one in six of the 640,000 residents who will be eligible for health-care coverage through the state exchange. Beshear’s office says a state-commissioned study shows the governor’s decision to expand Medicaid will create $15.6 billion in economic impacts and 17,000 new jobs.