Attorneys general would be required to defend constitutionality of laws under bill filed by Hoover

02/26/2017 01:00 PM

FRANKFORT — If House Speaker Jeff Hoover has his way, Kentucky’s attorney general will have to defend the constitutionality of any statute enacted by the General Assembly and signed into law.

Hoover, R-Jamestown, has sponsored House Bill 464, which would add that requirement to the office’s duties.

The topic of attorneys general choosing which laws to defend in court has provided political fodder for Republicans in recent years, but Hoover told reporters Friday that HB 464 has no partisan undertones. Its filing follows Attorney General Andy Beshear’s decision last month not to defend Senate Bill 5, a new law barring abortions past 20 weeks, if challenged.

“What it is saying is that Republicans expect officeholders to do their job,” he said.

“For an attorney general, whether it be this attorney general, a previous attorney general or any future attorney general, to be able to pick and choose which laws they want to fully execute is really, in my opinion, it is a slap to the people of Kentucky because that office is chief law enforcement officer,” he continued in his Capitol office suite. “That means they should execute fully implementation of laws that are adopted by the General Assembly and signed by the governor.”

Hoover said the bill may begin moving this week, which starts the final third of the 30-day session. It was referred to the House State Government Committee on Tuesday.

Beshear’s office said it was “surprised” by HB 464 because it had not heard from Hoover before he filed the legislation.

“General Beshear does look forward to a conversation with the Speaker where he can discuss the bill’s implications, which would require the office’s involvement in hundreds of private lawsuits ranging from estate disputes to car accidents, and everything in between,” Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian said in a statement.

Beshear isn’t the first Democratic attorney general to irk conservatives by declining to defend certain laws. Former Attorney General Jack Conway created waves in 2014 when he refused to defend Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban, prompting former Gov. Steve Beshear to intervene and hire outside counsel on the state’s behalf.

Both Conway and Attorney General Andy Beshear relied on their belief that their respective issues were unconstitutional, and both received plenty of criticism from the GOP.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has been an opposing force for both, first as a gubernatorial candidate in 2015 against Conway and now in a series of needling public comments and press releases between his and Beshear’s offices.

Bevin’s office has criticized Beshear’s for a lackluster defense of House Bill 2, the state’s new informed consent law requiring women to receive ultrasounds before having an abortion, in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and EMW Women’s Surgical Center. Beshear’s office has said it is taking “the most aggressive action possible” by moving to have the case dismissed against those agencies.

Lawyers from the attorney general’s office have filed motions to dismiss Beshear and Michael Rodman, executive director of the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, as defendants in the case for failure to state a claim, but Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Vicki Yates Brown Glisson’s defense has been handled by the governor’s and the cabinet’s general counsels. They’ve asked U.S. District Judge David Hale to toss the complaint entirely.

Attorneys for Hoover, Senate President Robert Stivers and chairmen of the Senate and House judiciary committees have also filed an amicus brief in the case “in the absence of a fully-committed defense from the Attorney General,” another shot at Beshear that Hoover reiterated Friday.

“I question the aggressiveness (of Beshear’s defense of HB 2),” he said.


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