FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky Senate reacted Monday to the attorney general’s refusal to appeal a ruling allowing state recognition of same-sex marriages, passing a bill that would allow top legislative leaders to intervene in such situations.
The measure would enable the state Senate president or House speaker to intervene in a court case when the attorney general or governor fail to defend a state law or part of the state constitution. The measure passed 31-6 and now goes to the House.
The measure stems partly from state Attorney General Jack Conway’s recent decision not to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that overturned parts of a 2004 state constitutional amendment barring recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Conway said that appealing the case would be “defending discrimination.”
Gov. Steve Beshear stepped in and hired a private law firm to handle the appeal.
The fallout from Conway’s refusal to appeal reached the Senate floor Monday. Republican Sen. Sara Beth Gregory pointedly said her bill would allow the intervention by top legislative leaders when the attorney general “is not doing his job.”
“Contrary to what some would imply, the legal status of this issue is far from settled,” Gregory said of the same-sex issue.
The bill also would allow the same legislative leaders to intervene in court cases when attorneys general seek court orders giving them sole discretion to spend funding from legal settlements.
That provision stems from Conway’s announcement early this year that Kentucky’s drug treatment programs would get a $32 million infusion from settlements with two pharmaceutical companies. That drew objections from some lawmakers who said the settlement money should have gone to the state’s General Fund, which provides money for most state programs.
While Republicans were united in supporting the bill, Democrats were divided.
Other than Gregory’s introductory remarks, the only comments came from Sen. Reginald Thomas. The Lexington Democrat said the bill “runs the risk of having the state really facing off against each other in a very counter-productive manner.” The result could be a waste of taxpayers’ money, he said.
Meanwhile, a federal judge is weighing whether to put on hold his order requiring Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries pending Beshear’s appeal. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II on Monday heard brief arguments from attorneys for the governor as well as lawyers for the couples seeking to attain the legal rights of married couples in Kentucky. Heyburn did not indicate when he would issue a decision.
If he does not issue a stay to his Feb. 12 order and an appeals court does not step in, the order will become law on Friday.