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In bipartisan vote, House passes bill changing how Kentucky fills vacant U.S. Senate seats

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In bipartisan vote, House passes bill changing how Kentucky fills vacant U.S. Senate seats

Mar 04, 2024 | 5:16 pm ET
By McKenna Horsley
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In bipartisan vote, House passes bill changing how Kentucky fills vacant U.S. Senate seats
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House Majority Floor Leader Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, right, confers with Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, during Friday’s House session. (LRC Public Information)

With bipartisan support, a GOP-backed bill that would end the governor’s power to fill vacant U.S. Senate seats passed the House Monday. 

Instead, voters in a special election would select a successor, if the bill becomes law. 

Kentucky House Republican Floor Leader Steven Rudy, of Paducah, has previously said House Bill 622 is aimed at changing the current law, which he said conflicts with the spirit of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment established that voters should choose U.S. senators. 

Rudy’s bill passed in a vote of 88-4 Monday. The no votes were Democratic Reps. George Brown Jr., Derrick Graham, Daniel Grossberg and Ruth Ann Palumbo. 

If the legislation passes through the General Assembly, it would be the second change to the law within the last three years. In 2021, Kentucky’s Republican-controlled General Assembly 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.

The new bill would allow winners of a special election to hold the seat for the remainder of the unexpired term. 

Rudy’s legislation comes as Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell announced last week he plans to step down as the U.S. Senate Republican floor leader later this year. Rudy has denied that he knew of McConnell’s plans before filing his legislation. 

McConnell, 82, said he plans to finish his current term, which ends in January 2027. 

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear opposes the bill. He told reporters last week Kentucky 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,” the governor said. 

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, of Manchester, was the sponsor of the 2021 legislation, which had support from McConnell. He told reporters he is open to discussions about the vacancy process but had not reviewed Rudy’s bill at the time.