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Bill seeks to limit governor’s ability to fill Senate seat

March 3, 2021 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kentucky pushed ahead Tuesday with a bill to remove the Democratic governor’s ability to make his own choice if a U.S. Senate seat should become vacant.

The bill — which passed the Senate and now goes to the House — reflects the GOP’s commanding position in attempting to reset terms for senatorial succession if a vacancy occurred. Republicans dominate the state’s legislature and hold both U.S. Senate seats from Kentucky.

In the event of a vacancy, the measure would put strict conditions on Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in picking a temporary replacement. The governor would have to choose from a three-name list provided by party leaders from the same party as the senator who formerly held the seat. The Senate seats are held by Republicans Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.

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During the Senate debate, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said such a process would reflect the will of the state’s electorate.

“The rationale is that in the most recent election for that position, the state chose to pick the individual from that party,” said Stivers, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The bill easily cleared the Senate on a 28-8 vote. Beshear said later that the process for filling a vacancy “shouldn’t be decided based on who’s currently in the office.”

“Once that happens we start breaking the very institutions that our state and country rely upon,” the governor said in a statement. “We’ve got to believe in the institution of government and in the separation of powers more than we believe in our party.”

Kentucky law currently allows the governor to appoint someone to fill the seat until the next regular election of the U.S. House of Representatives — every two years.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, the top-ranking Senate Democrat, pointed to the bill’s timing in opposing it.

“I think the reason we’re doing this bill is because there are two Republican senators and a Democratic governor,” he said Tuesday.

Stivers responded that he would have supported the bill when the state had a Republican governor.

The bill also would set up a process for a special election to fill the remainder of the unexpired Senate term. If the vacancy occurred more than three months before a regular election, any candidate able to collect enough signatures would compete in the special election, regardless of party affiliation. If no one received a majority of the votes, a runoff would occur between the top two vote-getters.

The measure is the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers to rein in Beshear’s executive authority. Earlier this year, GOP lawmakers passed measures to limit his executive powers in times of emergencies, a response to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Beshear is challenging the new laws in court, claiming they violate constitutional standards on separation of powers.

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The legislation is Senate Bill 228.