LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Gov. Andy Beshear has sued the legislature’s top leaders, alleging that a bill reorganizing the Kentucky State Fair Board encroaches on the governor's powers and violates the state constitution.
The lawsuit filed Friday in Jefferson Circuit Court seeks an injunction that would keep the fair board from operating under the provisions of House Bill 518, which the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed last month. Beshear, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, but it became law after lawmakers overrode the veto.
A hearing is scheduled before Jefferson Circuit Judge Mary Shaw next Monday.
Mike Berry, Beshear's tourism secretary and a fair board member, joined the governor in the lawsuit. The defendants are Senate President Robert Stivers; House Speaker David Osborne; Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles; and Dr. Mark Lynn, the board's newly elected chairman.
Among other things, HB 518 removed the governor's ability to name a fair board chair, shifting that role to the board itself. It also tilts appointing power from Beshear to Quarles, a Republican who serves on the board.
Beshear now names five of the board's 14 voting members; Quarles has nine appointments. The House and Senate also get one nonvoting board seat.
The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Richard Heath (R-Mayfield), said during the General Assembly that a reorganized fair board would have more independence. Heath was named to the board after the bill became law.
The lawsuit claims lawmakers "engaged in unprecedented stripping of the Governor's executive authority" during the recent legislative session. "Those actions will effectively prevent the Governor from fulfilling his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed," it says.
It argues that in reorganizing the fair board, the legislature gave appointing authority to Quarles, who "does not have the supreme executive powers of the Commonwealth, and does not have the constitutional duty to ensure the laws are faithfully executed."
Quarles tweeted Monday that his office is reviewing the lawsuit. He accused Beshear of refusing to accept laws passed by the legislature, instead "running to court to seek his preferred outcome."
"If he's successful, it will mean the legislature cannot draft laws to steer the state’s policy or set a vision for agencies it creates," Quarles said. "This must be defeated."
Osborne and Stivers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday morning. The fair board doesn't comment on pending litigation, spokesman Ian Cox said.
The Governor refuses to accept laws passed by the legislature & is now running to a court to seek his preferred outcome.If he's successful, it will mean the legislature cannot draft laws to steer the state’s policy or set a vision for agencies it creates. This must be defeated.— Commissioner Ryan Quarles (@KYAgCommish) April 19, 2021
The lawsuit alleges that the bill violates a section of the Kentucky Constitution that gives the governor the power to enforce state laws; a section that aims to keep powers of the government separate; and a section that gives the governor the "supreme executive power" of the state.
Among the lawsuit’s criticisms of the bill is a part that allows the fair board to enter into contracts without following the state procurement law. Instead, the bill says the board can create its own contracting rules.
The bill treats the fair board as a “self-sustaining entity despite its annual deficits” and yearling support from the state’s general fund, the lawsuit claims. It suggests that the board could “improperly spend taxpayers’ money and drive itself into further significant debt, with no oversight.”
Beshear and Berry remain fair board members. The governor’s cabinet also has a nonvoting seat on the board, state Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary Holly M. Johnson.
The board sparred with the Beshear administration last summer after the Finance Cabinet delayed approving an extension to the contract of David Beck, President and CEO of Kentucky Venues, which manages the fair board’s Kentucky Exposition Center and the downtown Kentucky International Convention Center.
Beck was hired during the administration of former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican.
At its first meeting since the legislature ended, the fair board elected Lynn as its chairman on April 1, replacing Beshear appointee Steve Wilson. Lynn is a previous board chair.
The board also sent a letter to the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet notifying it that the board planned to retake control over human resources, legal affairs, human resources and other areas that had been the cabinet’s responsibility. The board also approved a new set of bylaws.
Berry, the Tourism Secretary, voted against the new bylaws and cautioned that “some of the appointments that have been done may be undone. … I could not vote for the adoption of a set of bylaws that I believe are not based in what may end up being the reality of the newly constituted fair board.”
Lynn ended the meeting by telling board members that Kentucky Venues “has at its disposal one of the greatest assets in the state, and we’ve got to work with all parties and all groups and all committees.
“We’ve got to figure out how to make the right decisions to move things forward and just try to do the best we can for the Commonwealth.”
This story may be updated.
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