Judge in lawsuit over governor’s emergency powers tells Beshear and legislature to end ‘communicaJudge in lawsuit over governor’s emergency powers tells Beshear and legislature to end ‘communications gap’ and compromisetions gap’ and compromise

Judge Phillip Shepherd

Kentucky Health News

Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Andy Beshear, who have been trading potshots for most of the pandemic, need to compromise on their dispute about the governor’s emergency powers, the Frankfort judge hearing Beshear’s lawsuit to block new laws limiting those powers said Thursday.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd blamed the dispute on “a communications gap” and urged the parties “to see if you all can’t enlist the help of people who are knowledgeable in these areas to see if you can’t find some common ground in terms of ways to address this that would protect the legitimate interests of the legislature and the governor.”

He also said, “It has almost universally, up until recently, been the case that public-health issues have been dealt with in a nonpartisan way.”

Shepherd said he expects to rule within 10 days on Beshear’s request for an injunction blocking thee laws: limiting the governor’s emergency orders to 30 days unless ratified by the legislature, giving legislative committees more say-so about emergency regulations, and allowing businesses and schools to comply with state executive-branch guidelines or guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whichever is least restrictive.

All three bills had emergency clauses making them law immediately, but only the last one actually had an immediate effect, and Shepherd continued his temporary retraining order blocking it.

“The urgent need to have an effective response to a pandemic is an extremely important consideration for the court,” Shepherd said.

Beshear’s chief lawyer, Amy Cubbage, noted that the governor’s emergency orders, dealing with a wide range of topics, will expire March 4 unless the legislature extends them or Shepherd extends the restraining order.

Health Commissioner Steven Stack testified at Thursday’s hearing that the measures would “functionally render me powerless” in combating the pandemic, and translating CDC guidelines, which are not designed to be used as regulations, would be difficult for businesses and schools.

Under cross-examination from a lawyer for Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Stack said, “There are clearly things we wish could have been done differently or we had more options. But I do assert we tried in good faith to keep the most number of people safe in Kentucky.”

This story is based on reporting by Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press and Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

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