Beshear says legislators looking to pass law to help some trades reopen are putting ‘monetary interests’ ahead of public health

Gov. Andy Beshear as he said legislators weren’t setting “a very good example.” (Facebook screenshot)

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear says legislative leaders are putting “monetary interests” ahead of public health by preparing to pass a bill that would allow some non-essential businesses to open despite his emergency orders.

The legislative language wasn’t available before Beshear’s daily 5 p.m. briefing, but Speaker David Osborne said he and other members of the House’s Republican majority were talking about “protocols” that occupational licensing boards and trade associations could use to determine what non-essential businesses would be safe to reopen while still following health guidelines.

“There are some businesses that may not be termed essential that can operate in a perfectly safe manner,” Osborne said. “And if we can figure out a way to do that and comply with all CDC guidelines, then I think we need to start having that conversation.”

Beshear, asked about the idea, spoke with exasperation.

“All right, folks. We have been at this, we have been doing this, we have been flattening the curve. So, it’s who do you trust on how and when we reopen things. Do you trust the governor, led by the Department for Public Health and all of our medical officials, or do you trust the legislature and lobbyists that are talking to them each day based on monetary interests that are out there? I don’t think that that’s a hard decision.”

The governor said legislative leaders “are probably coming from a good place, but they haven’t been at this every day.” After recounting his efforts to find protective gear, reporting new coronavirus cases and covid-19 deaths and making “really hard, unpopular decisions,” he displayed his previously voiced unhappiness that the General Assembly is doing no more than dealing with the state budget and covid-19.

“I get that they’re back in town having a mass gathering right now, which is not a very good example, if we’re talking about making decisions and leading,” he said. “We have been leading it, grinding it out every day. I know folks are antsy, but we want to do this right. Now, if we open up too early, we look at what’s happened in Japan and other places . . . people died as a result.”

He said following advice of health experts has worked, and he will keep relying on it. “We’ll see if any bill comes to us, but I can guarantee you that public-health officials are going to provide the guidance of when we open up and what we open up,” he said. “That decision will not be driven by lobbyists.” The legislature cannot override new gubernatorial vetoes at this point.

Beshear’s broadside was just the latest politically fraught message of the day. The five Republicans who hold the other elected statewide constitutional offices issued a statement defending the GOP-run legislature from Beshear’s complaint.

“The Kentucky General Assembly has a solemn duty to conduct legislative business on behalf of the people of this Commonwealth. Unfortunately, partisan politics are interfering with the legislature’s constitutional obligations,” they said. “The General Assembly returned today, amid a global pandemic, to conclude its remaining legislative business for the year. The governor has suggested that by doing so, the General Assembly is endangering the public health of the Commonwealth. The truth of the matter is that the Governor has put them in this position.”

They noted that Beshear rejected legislative leaders’ offered to adjourn if he would agree to call a special session at a safer time. They didn’t mention that legislators wanted the session to have an unlimited agenda; governors limit the agenda of special sessions but the legislature decides when to end them.

The Republicans added, “He says he is willing to give up his newfound political popularity to do the right thing, without regard to partisanship, but if that was the case and he did not want the legislature to return, he should not have vetoed bills that passed with veto-proof majorities.” Beshear also vetoed line items in the budget and a revenue bill.

The statement was issued by Secretary of State Michael Adams, Treasurer Allison Ball, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Auditor Mike Harmon and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, a likely candidate for governor in 2023. The statement was issued through his Department of Agriculture.

Beshear, asked at the end of his briefing what he thought about politics being back in play, said “I don’t care. I’m done with politics; I’m doing what I can to save lives every day,” adding that he would fight for his ability to do that, because Kentuckians will hold him, not the legislature, accountable for the states handling of the pandemic.

“I’m not gonna get in a political back and forth,” he said. The rest of this state has come together, has pushed our divisions aside, and I hope that everybody else can, too. “But my job is to lead, and hopefully to lead by example. So my goal is not to get bogged down in any of that, but to be able to talk to you Kentuckians each and every day, and to tell you that we are not Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans fighting this coronavirus.”

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