Kentucky Senate joins House to OK new process to fill US Senate vacancies

Published 11:54 am Thursday, March 28, 2024

By Mckenna Horsley

Kentucky Lantern

FRANKFORT — Kentucky senators approved a House bill that would end the governor’s power to fill U.S. Senate vacancies.

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This year’s change comes on the heels of a 2021 law that was sponsored by Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, of Manchester. While speaking on House Bill 622, Stivers called the new legislation “a better way to proceed.”

The bill would require the governor to call a special election to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat and allow the winner to serve until the end of the unexpired term.

Stivers made an argument similar to that of the original bill sponsor, House Republican Floor Leader Steven Rudy, of Paducah, that  the bill follows the spirit of the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment establishes that voters can choose U.S. senators.

“It would be a direct voice of the people determining how the vacancy is filled — not an appointment of any individual with any criteria set by the legislature,” Stivers said.

Senators voted 34-3 in favor of  the bill, with three Democratic senators voting in opposition.

Now that both the House and Senate have approved the measure, it goes to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk for his signature or veto. He’s been critical of the bill since it was in the House.

Beshear has said governors of both parties before 2021 had the same “type of authority that they’re trying to tear away from me in my time as governor.”

“​If we are just dominated by trying to create a result of what letter someone would have behind their name if appointed, then we are not performing or engaging in good government,” he said.

Stivers’ 2021 legislation required sitting governors to choose Senate appointees from the same political party as the person vacating the seat. That law requires the governor to appoint one of three recommendations from the appropriate party’s executive committee.

Stivers’ original law also had the backing of U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky senator announced earlier this year he plans to step down from his role later this year.

Last year, concerns about the senator’s health were raised after he suffered a concussion and two freeze-ups in front of reporters, including one in Northern Kentucky. Since then, McConnell has continued to speak publicly, both in Washington and at home in Kentucky.