Gov. Bevin rescinds Beshear's action on felon voting rights, strikes clerks' names from marriage licenses in executive orders

12/22/2015 04:09 PM

UPDATED: Gov. Matt Bevin has issued five executive orders, addressing issues like marriage licensing, minimum wages for vendors doing business with the state and the restoration of felon voting rights.

Of the five orders announced by Bevin’s administration Tuesday, four of them reversed in whole or in part previous orders issued by Gov. Steve Beshear, including one in the waning days of the Democrat’s administration that allowed non-violent felons to have their rights to vote and hold office restored upon completing their sentences.

Bevin highlighted that particular order in a news release, saying he “took action to uphold several commitments I made during my campaign so that we can implement real solutions that will help the people of Kentucky.”

“While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, for example, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people,” he said in a statement. “As we move into the New Year and upcoming session, I look forward to working with legislators and stakeholders to build consensus and drive policy that makes a meaningful impact on the lives of all Kentuckians.”

In explaining Bevin’s decision to suspend Beshear’s civil rights executive action, the administration said that order “is contrary to the Kentucky Constitution and undermines the very right it seeks to restore by circumventing elected representatives in the state legislature and the voice of the people at the ballot box.”

“The Office of the Governor will continue to utilize the processes and procedures under current law in the same manner as the previous administration pending further study and consideration by the Kentucky General Assembly,” the news release states. “This Executive Order does not affect anyone whose rights have already been restored by the previous Executive Order.”

In statements, Rep. Darryl Owens criticized Bevin’s action while House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he hoped the issue would get some traction in the GOP-led Senate.

“I am extremely disappointed with the executive order on felon voting rights, which to me goes against promises Governor Bevin made during the campaign,” Owens, D-Louisville, said in a statement. “I will continue championing the amendment that will give voters a chance to put Kentucky in line with the vast majority of states on this issue.”

Bevin followed through on a campaign pledge to amend the marriage licensing process, issuing an executive order that removes the names of county clerks from marriage license forms.

That controversy erupted earlier this year, when a federal judge jailed Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for contempt after she refused to issue licenses to couples, citing her opposition to same-sex marriage. Her office has since resumed issuing amended licenses without her name.

Mat Staver, chairman and founder of the Liberty Counsel that’s defending Davis in federal court, called the executive action “a great Christmas present for Kim Davis and the other Kentucky clerks.” He said Davis sent him a text message upon news of Bevin’s executive order, saying his client “is very excited.”

“We’re pleased that Gov. Bevin kept his campaign promise, and he said that the first executive order he would issue would be to protect Kim Davis, and he has done so,” Staver said in a phone interview with Pure Politics. “That’s exactly what we asked from the very beginning, to accommodate her religious beliefs, and I think going forward this will result in a complete turnaround of the litigation.”

Staver said his team planned to notify the federal courts involved in the case “right away,” adding his belief that “this should bring the litigation to an end in our favor.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued Davis on behalf of couples who had been denied marriage licenses in Rowan County, said Bevin’s executive action on muddied the legal waters in the matter.

“The requirement that the county clerk’s name appear on marriage licenses is prescribed by Kentucky law and is not subject to unilateral change by the governor — conceded by the previous administration in court filings,” William Sharp, the ACLU of Kentucky’s legal director, said in a statement.

“Today, however, a new administration claims to have that authority. The ACLU continues to work with loving couples who hold marriage licenses of questionable validity and for those who are waiting to legalize their unions until this is resolved. And the ACLU will continue to challenge government officials who disregard the law in favor of promoting their own personal beliefs to the detriment of the rights of others.”

Stumbo praised Bevin’s executive order on removing clerks names, noting he was an early supporter of such a move.

“It’s a simple fix, and I applaud the governor for finding a way to balance the law and the concerns that county clerks like mine in Floyd County had,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a statement.

Bevin also issued an executive order rescinding Beshear’s actions raising the minimum wage for state workers to $10.10 per hour and requiring outside vendors to pay their employees that amount at a minimum if doing business with state government.

Bevin’s order, however, does not apply to merit employees who have already received higher wages, according to the release.

House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly disagreed with the governor’s moves, saying they did not follow pledges he had made on the campaign trail and calling them “despicable.” In a news release, she particularly targeted Bevin’s action on wages and reversing Beshear’s executive order on felon voting rights.

“When crisscrossing the state, I often met face-to-face with candidate Bevin,” Overly, D-Paris, said in a statement. “He made many promises and took stances on issues facing our state. However, within his first month in office, he is already starting to undermine and refute these promises to Kentuckians. It’s anyone’s guess which promise is next on the chopping block.”

Kenny Colston, communications director for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, called Bevin’s action on minimum wages “a step backward for many hard working Kentuckians who have seen their wages remain flat despite a growing economy.”

“While no current employee will see their increased wages be rolled back, this creates an unfair system for any new hires,” Colston said in a statement. “We encourage state lawmakers to take executive orders out of this completely by passing a statewide minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour.”

Bevin also issued a moratorium on state hiring, with the release stating that current vacancies “will be reviewed to determine if they are necessary to the maintenance of essential government services.” That order moved oversight of merit hires from the Governor’s Office to the Personnel Cabinet.

A fifth executive action abolished the Governor’s Employee Advisory Council, which was created in 2001 under Gov. Paul Patton and re-instituted in 2008 under Beshear in an effort to improve communication between the Governor’s Office and front-line state workers.

“The GEAC was created to discuss issues pertaining to wages, hours, and terms of employment for merit employees, but is non-value added given that the Governor has no power to extend negotiation and collective bargaining rights to employees of the Commonwealth,” the news release states.

“The merit system, along with the policies and procedures enacted through the Personnel Cabinet, provide sufficient protections and oversight of these issues and functions in a streamlined and efficient manner.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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