LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Democratic lawmakers are alarmed by Gov. Matt Bevin's move earlier this month to abolish the state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board and to transfer its powers to the secretary of the state Labor Cabinet.
But Bevin contends the board, made up gubernatorial appointees representing industries and labor, largely rubber stamps changes in federal workplace safety regulations, and it would be more efficient for the labor secretary to assume its powers.
The controversy stems from Executive Order 2018-586, "Relating to the Reorganization of the Labor Cabinet and the Education & Workforce Development Cabinet," which was filed by the governor's office on July 17.
The order has created a backlash among Democratic leaders in the state.
In a letter dated July 25, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear strongly urged Kentucky legislators to express their opposition to the executive order, which he said transferred all of the powers of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board -- which received input from 12 members representing various industries -- to a single "at-will" employee appointed by the governor.
"While the Secretary of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet heads the Standards Board, the remaining twelve (12) members mentioned above represent labor, the safety and health profession, management and agriculture," Beshear's letter states. "These are the men and women who are most knowledgeable of the safety and health needs of the workers of the Commonwealth. Under the Executive Order, the Secretary of the Labor Cabinet has the sole authority to make determinations affecting the safety and health of Kentucky workers."
But the governor's executive order states that the decision to abolish the board was made, in part, to promote expediency and streamline the process of Kentucky's compliance with new federal workplace regulations.
"Under current Kentucky law, the Secretary of the Labor Cabinet has the power to promulgate or change OSH regulations, rules, or standards to meet federal timeline requirements. Thus, as a practical matter, the six-month duty to comply with federal mandates that has become the standard for the OSH community has obviated the need for the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, which is the organizational unit charged with promulgating or altering OSH regulations, rules or standards under normal conditions."
The executive order further states that the board's actions "essentially mirrors" that of the U.S. Department of Labor, and thus the abolition of the board eliminates redundancy.
The governor's office says no jobs will be affected by the changes.
That wasn't enough to convince the State Senate Democratic Leadership Office. Days after Beshear sent his note to legislators, the office followed suit, sending a letter to Bevin, dated July 30, which stated in part:
"Abolishing the Standards Board harms the comprehensive framework of the Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Program. It further contradicts and conflicts with the Kentucky State Plan that the General Assembly adopted and the U.S. Department of Labor approved. That Plan specifically includes the creation of the Standards Board."
Portions of the letter from the State Senate Democratic Leadership Office were lifted, word-for-word, from Beshear's letter. It goes on to implore the governor:
"On behalf of all Kentucky workers, we -- the Senate Democratic Caucus -- respectfully request that you rescind your Executive Order. If you would like to discuss this matter further, our leadership would be glad to meet with you."
But in a response, David Dickerson, acting secretary of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, flatly declined their request. Speaking on behalf of the Bevin administration, he accused the Democrats of employing a double standard, comparing the powers used in Bevin's executive order to those used by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear when he created the "kynect" state health insurance exchange. He also charged them with following in lockstep behind "newly minted gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear."
"In closing, let me say this: Serious issues deserve thoughtful deliberation by honest leaders. So, if you truly believe, as Governor Bevin and I do, that the primary function of government is to protect the people -- and not to redistribute their wealth or grant them special privileges -- I invite you to call me so that we might collaborate in the area of OSH governance. All of you can continue to parrot Candidate Beshear's short-sighted campaign talking points, or you can join us in taking seriously this government's obligation to protect the workers of this great state from unnecessary harm."
Beshear's Executive Order 2018-586 appears below:
Attorney General Andy Beshear's July 25 letter to legislators appears below:
The July 30 letter from the State Senate Democratic Leadership Office to Governor Matt Bevin appears below:
The July 31 response from David Dickerson, acting secretary of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, appears below:
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