Republican lawmakers in Kentucky swept aside a series of vetoes by the Democratic governor on Wednesday as they worked through a packed agenda with the end of this year’s session in sight.
The GOP-dominated legislature overrode Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a charter schools bill — one of the most contentious issues of the 2022 session. The measure aims to launch charter schools in the Bluegrass State and supply them with funding. In a pivotal showdown, the House narrowly overrode the veto on a 52-46 vote. The Senate later finished the override on a 22-15 vote.
Working into the evening, lawmakers successfully overrode the governor’s rejection of other Republican-priority bills that would tighten rules for public assistance and revamp the state’s tax code. Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers.
The Senate kept overriding the governor’s vetoes Wednesday night until taking a break as an intense storm approached the capital city. Once the storm had passed, senators resumed work.
Opponents of the bill tightening rules for public assistance benefits claimed it would threaten access to food and health care benefits. Supporters said it wouldn’t hurt people in need of help.
“The only way that you get these benefits taken from you is if you are doing something illegal or if you refuse to be a part of the community engagement program,” said Republican House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade, a leading sponsor of the measure.
The bill would add new rules for such benefits as food stamps and Medicaid. In some cases, it will require “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients without dependents to participate in “community engagement” activities, such as jobs or volunteering.
The tax measure is aimed at gradually phasing out individual income taxes while extending the state sales tax to more services.
It features conditions that have to be met to trigger incremental drops in the state’s personal income tax rate, which is now at 5%. The tax rate could drop by a half percentage point at a time if the formula’s targets are achieved. The first rate cut could come as soon as Jan. 1, 2023, according to Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Chris McDaniel.
In rejecting the bill, Beshear said it would create new taxes on a number of services and industries.
The legislature also swept aside the governor’s veto of another GOP priority — a bill shifting key school governance decisions to superintendents and away from school-based decision-making councils. The override votes won by wide margins in both chambers.
The sweeping education bill also would designate a set of historical documents and speeches to incorporate into classroom work — a response to the national debate over critical race theory.
The override votes — reflecting the deep policy differences between Beshear and GOP lawmakers — came as legislators worked into the evening on Day 59 of the 60-day legislative session.
One of the sharpest disagreements has been over the charter schools bill. It drew strong pushback from many in public education, and opponents continued to warn that it would siphon money from traditional public schools if it becomes law.
The bill would set up a long-term funding method for charter schools. Public charters, like traditional public schools, would receive a mix of local and state tax support.
The proposal also would require that at least two charter schools be created under pilot projects — one in Louisville and one in northern Kentucky. Opponents said that would only be the start, warning that charters would spread.
“Colleagues, don’t think that this will stop at Louisville and northern Kentucky. Don’t think this won’t affect your area,” Democratic Rep. Rachel Roberts said.
Instead of joining in the debate, House supporters let their votes do the talking. Supporters have portrayed charter schools as a way to give parents more choices for their children’s schooling.