SB 126 was introduced in the State Senate on February 14, 2023. The bill was passed along party lines 28-7 on March 15, 2023, and delivered to Governor Beshear the following day on March 16, 2023. Governor Beshear vetoed the bill on March 24, 2023, and it was sent back to the Legislature who overrode the Governor’s veto by a 78-19 vote. According to proponents of the bill, the purpose is to provide an opportunity to change the venue of legal matters which challenge Kentucky laws. Traditionally, these issues are primarily adjudicated in Franklin Circuit Court. However, in an attempt to minimize influence from the Franklin County Circuit Court, the Kentucky Senate passed legislation in 2021 that required plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Kentucky laws, regulations, or executive orders to sue in their home county instead of submitting the case to Franklin County. The sponsor of the bill, Jason Howell of Murray, Kentucky, called the Senate Bill “clean up” legislation building on top of the 2021 legislation.
What is in SB 126?
Senate Bill 126 outlines the requirements for a case in order for the legislation to apply. To start, the case must be a civil action which challenges Kentucky statute; executive order; administrative regulation; or an order of any cabinet, program cabinet, or department established under KRS Chapter 12. Next, the action must include a claim for declaratory judgment or injunctive relief. Finally, the claim must be brought against a state official in their official capacity, or any body, subdivision, caucus, committee, or member of the General Assembly, or the Legislative Research Commission.
Assuming these requirements are met, Kentucky residents must then file a complaint or petition in the Circuit Court where they reside. If the person bringing the complaint is not a resident of Kentucky, the new legislation requires the claim to initially be brought in Franklin Circuit Court. Next, the law states that either plaintiff or defendant may seek a change of venue by filing a notice of transfer in the Circuit Court within 30 days after the return of service on the defendant. The notice will be transmitted to the clerk of the Supreme Court who will then randomly select a different Circuit Court to hand the case off to. The bill also allows for the Attorney General to intervene as a defendant in a case in order to request a random change of venue.
What does this mean?
The bill allows for plaintiffs arguing a case in a Circuit Court they believe to be unfavorable to their viewpoint the option to have their case reassigned to a potentially more favorable circuit. Some cases may be viewed differently in one venue compared to another, and in the event that a case if presumed to be met unfavorably by that venue, this bill allows a “luck of the draw” to determine the venue of the case. This is a bit of a double-edged sword as it’s possible a claim could be seen as favorable in the initial venue, but because the opposition realizes the disadvantage of adjudicating the claim in that venue, requests a random assignment. The bill faces opposition, however, and legal challenges are expected in the near future.
The bill is an example of the constantly changing state of the law in Kentucky and how important it is for those practicing in the legal field to stay on top of the altering landscape. Attorneys will need to begin formulating arguments and plans of action based on the prospect of making and defending against claims throughout the Commonwealth, not just the immediate vicinity around where they practice. If you are involved in a claim that challenges a state law or statute, make sure your representation is aware of this bill and discuss the effects it may have on your case. This is a bill that will require further monitoring and we’ll keep you updated with any further information.