Bevin revamps workers' comp panel again

Tom Loftus
Governor's General Counsel Steve Pitt

FRANKFORT, Ky. - In an attempt to address concerns raised by Franklin Circuit Court last week, Gov. Matt Bevin on Monday reorganized for the second time the state board that nominates candidates for him to appoint as workers' compensation judges.

Bevin abolished the seven-member Kentucky Workers' Compensation Nominating Commission he had created by an earlier executive order of May 9 and created a new five-member panel called the Workers' Compensation Nominating Committee.

"This is an effort to address some of the court's concerns," Steve Pitt, general counsel for the Governor's Office, told Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd Monday morning. And Pitt filed a motion to dismiss "as moot" the lawsuit brought last month by Teamsters Local 89, the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and other plaintiffs to declare Bevin's original reorganization as illegal.

Last week Shepherd issued a temporary injunction that stayed the effect of Bevin's original reorganization of the panel. Shepherd said that the reorganization looked more like a "mass firing" than a legitimate attempt by a governor to increase the efficiency and administration of a state board.

Because of Monday's unexpected development, attorneys on both sides of the case agreed with Shepherd Monday that no action be taken by any of the nominating panels - old or new - until a court hearing next week.

"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.

But Robert Colone, attorney for Teamsters Local 89, said Bevin's new order does not resolve the conflict.

"Even the new executive order fails to address the fundamental question of whether the governor even has the authority to make these types of executive orders," Colone said later Monday. "So we believe the issues are still ripe for determination by this court."

Bevin's May 9 order abolished a seven-member commission filled with appointees of former Gov. Steve Beshear and created a new one with seven appointees of his own.

But Pitt said Monday that the new panel is different in many ways. It has only five members. Unlike Bevin's original order that called for two Democrats and two Republicans named to the panel, the new order retains a requirement in the state statute that the panel include two Democrats and one Republican. The new order eliminates the $100-per-meeting compensation to committee members. And it retains Charles McCoy, a member of the Beshear-appointed commission who is a plaintiff in the case, as a member of the new committee.

The other four members of the new committee appointed by Bevin Monday are the following: Louis D. Kelly, of Florence; Runan S. Pendergrast, of Lexington; Megan E. Mersch, of Park Hills; and Joshua W. Davis, of Louisville.

Both sides of the case say they want to resolve the conflict quickly because there's a lot of work for the nominating group to do. Currently three of the 17 workers' comp judge positions are vacant, and three more will become vacant in July.

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