RANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin scrapped most current members of a powerful commission and replaced them with his own appointees for a second time, in spite of a judge’s order last week that temporarily blocked the reorganization.
Bevin’s spokeswoman said the new executive order is an attempt to address the concerns without waiting for a lengthy appeal. But critics say they were blindsided and have vowed to fight the new order in court.
The Workers Compensation Nominating Commission recommends people to serve as administrative law judges. When workers get hurt on the job and file a workers compensation claim, these judges decide if and how much employers have to pay. The governor appoints those judges with the consent of the state Senate, but he can only select from the names the nominating commission sends him.
Last month, Bevin — a Republican who took office in December — abolished the commission, rewrote the rules that governed it and then replaced it with new members. Labor unions sued, fearing Bevin would try to stack the court with judges more likely to side with employers.
Last week, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd temporarily blocked Bevin’s order. But instead of appealing the judge’s decision, Bevin rescinded his previous order on Monday and issued another one similar to the one the judge already blocked. He then asked Shepherd to dismiss the case. A hearing is scheduled for next week.
“He has acted in a reasonable, good-faith manner to preserve the workers’ comp system,” Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said. She said the labor unions that sued will only delay claims currently awaiting review if they continue to challenge Bevin’s order restricting the commission in court.
Bevin’s new order renames the commission the Workers Compensation Nominating Committee. It reduces the number of members to five from seven and stops paying them. But Bevin said Charles McCoy, who was a member of the old commission but was retained for the new committee, will still get $100 for every meeting.
Bevin says his action is necessary to avoid a lengthy appeals process. Kentucky will soon have six vacant administrative law judge positions that, if left unfilled, could delay people receiving medical and other benefits. The governor can only appoint judges nominated by the commission. If the commission can’t meet because of the court challenge, Bevin can’t appoint judges.
But Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan said Bevin’s maneuver on Monday could cause further delays.
“I guess the logic there is the initial act was found to be inconsistent with the law so let’s just do it again,” he said. “How that equates into saving time or limiting delays is beyond logic.”
Shepherd did not rule on Bevin’s request to dismiss the case, media outlets reported Monday. Instead, he left his order in place preventing the commission from taking action and scheduled another hearing for June 20.
“The court appreciates the fact that I think there’s some real movement here and some real good faith efforts that have been initiated now to try to resolve this matter,” Shepherd said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.