- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s Republican governor abolished and replaced three more boards and commissions on Monday, but this time no one seems to be complaining.

Gov. Matt Bevin has used executive orders to abolish and replace at least five other boards and commissions since taking office in December, including the boards overseeing the University of Louisville, the Kentucky Retirement Systems and the nomination of judges who decide worker compensation claims. He’s been sued for all three, including twice by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear. A state judge has ruled against him twice.

But Monday, Bevin received bipartisan praise for his decision to abolish the Kentucky Board of Claims, the Board of Tax Appeals and the Crime Victims Compensation Board. Citing the same state law he used to justify his decision to abolish the University of Louisville board of trustees, Bevin replaced those three boards with the Kentucky Claims Commission. He says the decision will save taxpayers $350,000 a year.

A news release from the governor’s office included praise from Democratic state Sen. Denise Harper Angel of Louisville, who said the plan would provide immediate relief to about 300 crime victims, “speed up the claims process and direct more money to help crime victims.”

Harper Angel did not return a call seeking comment.

Bevin has now abolished and replaced at least eight boards and commissions. The orders allow Bevin to replace existing board members who were appointed by his Democratic predecessor without waiting for their terms to expire. Beshear has been one of the most vocal critics of this strategy, calling some of the orders an unprecedented power grab.

But Tuesday, Beshear declined to comment on Bevin’s latest order.

Last month, a judge temporarily blocked Bevin’s order abolishing and replacing the board of trustees at the University of Louisville, saying the court had to intervene to “preserve the proper checks and balances governing executive action.” Before that, the same judge had temporarily blocked an order abolishing and replacing the Workers Compensation Nominating Commission.

Despite the judge’s rulings, Doug Hogan, spokesman for Bevin’s Public Protection Cabinet, said the administration is “confident Gov. Bevin has the authority to reorganize these administrative bodies in order to achieve greater economy, efficiency and improved administration.” He said the same authority has been used more than 300 times under previous administrations.

Together, the boards and commissions that Bevin abolished on Monday were made up of eight people who shared a total of $370,000 a year in salary and benefits. The new Kentucky Claims Commission will consist of three people who will share a total of $100,000 a year in salary and benefits.

In addition to handling tax appeals, the commission will decide how to spend money from the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund. The fund, made up of tax dollars and court fees, pays crime victims up to $25,000 for things like counseling and burial expenses. It also reimburses hospitals for the costs incurred while collecting rape kits - evidence gathered from rape victims in the hours after an assault.

But Bevin’s office says the fund has a $2 million backlog of requests. He said the $350,000 a year in savings generated by his order will go toward reducing that backlog.

Eileen Recktenwald, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, says reducing the backlog could encourage more hospitals to hire nurses who specialize in collecting rape kits to help aid authorities investigate the crimes.

“Hospitals have been basically offering this service for free because they haven’t been getting reimbursed,” she said.

Elizabeth Cobb, vice president of the Kentucky Hospital Association, declined to comment.

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