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Kentucky lawmakers pass new rules for filling Senate vacancies

Under the bill, the governor would have to choose from a three-name list provided by leaders from the same party as the senator who formerly held the seat.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday that would remove Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s ability to appoint a member of his own party to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate if one occurred.

The legislation, which Republican lawmakers pushed forward after discussions with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, now heads to the governor’s desk.

Current state law allows the governor to appoint someone to fill the seat until the next regular election of the U.S. House of Representatives, which happens every two years. But under the bill approved Tuesday by the state House of Representatives, the governor would have to choose from a three-name list provided by leaders from the same party as the senator who formerly held the seat. Since Republicans currently hold both of Kentucky’s Senate seats, GOP leaders would make the nominations.

A veto is likely to be overridden by Republican supermajorities in both the House and Senate.

McConnell, the state’s senior senator, won reelection last year and said he has no intention of leaving the Senate. McConnell has said the measure would improve the process of filling a vacancy.

“It would also ensure Kentucky voters have the ability to choose who they think will best represent them in a timely manner, as opposed to leaving that decision to the governor, regardless of party,” the 79-year-old senator said in a statement March 12.

State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Democrat, called the legislation a “power grab from Frankfort.”

“When you win elections, which the Governor did, part of that power that goes to him is appointing seats to the U.S. Senate,” she said. “Again, this is what people hate about politics, changing the rules because the person that was elected to the executive office was not in the majority’s party.”

Any vacancy in the evenly split U.S. Senate would be of enormous consequence. Democrats have the slim edge in the 50-50 chamber because Vice President Kamala Harris is a tie-breaking vote.

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