Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - Updated: 2:08 AM
Sometime during the early morning hours in the last days of a short legislative session, Kentucky Senate Republicans again took it upon themselves to eviscerate voters' rights.
OK, so that's a rather broad way to look at it, but the end result could very well be the same.
Sen. Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) on Wednesday introduced to legislative committee a bill that would strip power from the state's Attorney General Andy Beshear to file civil lawsuits or handle appeals on behalf of Kentuckians and hand it over to the governor. The legislation came as a last-minute provision to House Bill 281 (initially introduced by Rep. James Nemes, a Louisville Republican), which would require more transparency on outside contracts awarded by the AG's office and cap fees collected by outside lawyers to handle litigation.
We agree with some aspects of Nemes' original bill, despite Beshear's objections that the legislation was unnecessary given that the office discloses its contracts on its website. It is, quite frankly, naive to trust an agency to be fully transparent on its own website without proper vetting by a third party.
However, sneaking a shift of public policy of this scope into a bill in the few remaining days of session -- ultimately guaranteeing only limited evaluation by lawmakers -- is just dangerous.
Beshear wasn't wrong when he called the measure a "unprecedented power grab and one of the worst constitutional overreaches since the adoption of our (state) constitution."
Stivers has said the legislature should set limits to the power of the state's AGs and has had discussions of this nature for years; the changes, he said, are to codify who speaks for Kentucky in litigation.
It is not lost on us, however, that the matter follows a series of very public squabbles between Beshear and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. While Stivers insists the measure did not come down from the governor's office, it is also worthy of mention that Stivers' wife works in the Bevin administration.
We smell a political vendetta.
The attorney general is an independent constitutional officer for a reason: to preserve the rights of the citizenry and provide another layer of checks and balances to those who hold power. Passing some of that power back into the hands of the governor feels to us like putting too many eggs in Bevin's basket -- and that of any other who succeeds him -- for the sake of political posturing.
If nothing else, we would hope legislators would take the appropriate time to consider such policy at length rather than squishing it into the final hours of session.