House passes trio of Senate's priority bills as veto break looms

03/15/2017 07:16 PM

FRANKFORT — The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would give governors broader authority in removing trustees from university boards on a 60-33 vote Wednesday.

Senate Bill 107, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, stems from Gov. Matt Bevin’s decision last year to reorganize the University of Louisville board of trustees, which he said had become dysfunctional and out of compliance with laws on minority and political representation.

His actions were ultimately overturned in Franklin Circuit Court after Attorney General Andy Beshear sued, but the General Assembly passed legislation in the first week of this year’s session that reconstituted the U of L board.

Stivers has said that legislation, Senate Bill 12, and SB 107 are needed to ease concerns raised by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which placed U of L on accreditation probation for at least a year because of Bevin’s moves.

SB 107 would expand the governor’s ability to remove trustees from university boards, adding malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence and gross neglect of duty as possible reasons for removal. The Council on Postsecondary Education would be required to investigate any potential removals, but its recommendations wouldn’t be binding.

Some Democrats voiced their opposition to the legislation on the House floor. Rep. Mary Lou Marizan, D-Louisville, said SB 107 “gives the governor way too much power” while Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, said the legislation could lead to more “yes people” on university boards throughout the state.

“I think we need some people that’s not afraid to think and disagree, but if this bill becomes law, you make one disagreement, you’re subject to be thrown off the board,” he said.

However, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, countered that Democrats concerned about passing SB 107 didn’t utter a word of protest when former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear named donors to the U of L board, putting it out of legal compliance in terms of minority and political representation.

“We are here because a former governor used my university as an opportunity for his party and for his son’s campaign,” he said. “That is why we are here. We have to fix a problem.”

Reps. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, and McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, crossed party lines in voting for SB 107.

The House also took action on a pair of other Senate priority bills. The lower chamber passed Senate Bill 120, legislation focused on helping felons re-enter society, on an 85-9 vote.

A key provision of SB 120 would lift certain restrictions for low-level felons seeking occupational licenses, namely automatic denials based on felony convictions. It would also establish re-entry programs for inmates nearing release and expand work-release programs, among other items.

The Senate’s education reform bill, which would put Kentucky in compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, passed on a 94-0 vote.

Lawmakers are set to begin the veto recess on Thursday.


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