FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general lost his bid to intervene in support of a law designed to protect life insurance benefits after Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration dropped its defense of the law.
In a one-page order dated Wednesday, the state’s Supreme Court denied Attorney General Andy Beshear’s motion seeking to allow his office to step in to defend the Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act.
The 2012 Kentucky law requires life insurance companies to check public death records to verify whether any policyholders have died and to notify heirs so they can start receiving benefits. Several life insurance companies sued, saying the law could not be applied to policies written before the law passed.
A circuit judge ruled in the state’s favor, but the state Court of Appeals reversed the decision.
In an abrupt twist, the state Department of Insurance asked to dismiss the case just days before the state’s high court was set to hear oral arguments in the matter. At the time, Bevin said that after a “thorough analysis” of the appeals court ruling, he believed it was illegal to apply the law retroactively.
In seeking to intervene, Beshear accused Bevin’s administration of abandoning Kentuckians who might never know they were entitled to benefits from life insurance policies taken out by their relatives.
Beshear’s harsh criticism of Bevin’s handling of the court case ratcheted up already-simmering tension between Bevin and his predecessor, former Gov. Steve Beshear, who is Andy Beshear’s father. Steve Beshear and Bevin’s administration have clashed on health care policy and management of the Kentucky Horse Park.
Steve Beshear’s administration defended the insurance law and took the case to the Supreme Court.
On Thursday, Andy Beshear said he knew he faced an uphill fight in seeking his late-minute intervention in the case. He lambasted the Department of Insurance anew for its “shameful and secretive actions” and issued a stern warning to the insurance companies that challenged the law.
“Government should fight for the people, not work against them,” the attorney general said in a statement. “While this case is over, let me be clear — if we learn these companies are not paying out on their policies, we will pursue them to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Department of Insurance issued a statement promising to “take swift action” against any insurance company that violates the law.
“However, the Department will not selectively enforce the law,” the department wrote. “Kentucky has a clear law stating that no statute may apply retroactively unless expressly stated. This is why the Court of Appeals found that the law in question is not retroactive, and why the department agrees with the Court.”
The Supreme Court’s order said Andy Beshear’s motion to intervene was “untimely” and therefore was denied. As a result, it also denied his motion to reconsider the order dismissing the appeal. The court’s order said that one of its members, Justice Mary C. Noble, would have granted the motion.
Meanwhile, the Bevin administration’s handling of the case brought a quick response from Kentucky lawmakers. The Democratic-led House recently passed a bill, on an 84-0 vote, which would require insurers to make “good faith efforts” to track down beneficiaries, no matter when policies were written. The bill is pending in the Republican-controlled Senate, where it was referred to a committee that has taken no action on it.