Franklin Circuit judge issues injunction blocking three new laws the legislature passed to limit the governor’s emergency powers

Judge Phillip Shepherd

A Frankfort judge has blocked three laws the legislature passed to limit Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd’s injunction affects 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. Shepherd had already blocked it with a temporary restraining order, then asked that the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled General Assembly overcome their “communication gap” and compromise.

Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “Recently, we have been having productive conversations on a wide range of topics with legislative leaders. We will attempt to work with them on this and other topics now and in the future.”
Nevertheless, the legislature and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron are expected to appeal, perhaps directly to the state Supreme Court, bypassing the Court of Appeals.
“In a status hearing Monday, Shepherd pleaded with the parties to negotiate a settlement or resolution to the issue, but said he would be ready to make an order before Thursday if that did not happen,” reports Joe Sonka of the Courier Journal. “The 30-day limit on Beshear’s emergency orders and regulations under SB 1 and SB 2 was set to expire at midnight on Thursday, along with Shepherd’s previous temporary [order] on HB 1, but for now remain in effect.”

Shepherd wrote in his 23-page order that the two sides “are acting in good faith to address public-policy challenges of the utmost importance” but “The governor has made a strong case that the legislation, in its current form, is likely to undermine or even cripple, the effectiveness of public-health measures necessary to protect the lives and health of Kentuckians from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

He wrote, “The challenged legislation seeks to address a legitimate problem of effective legislative oversight of the governor’s emergency powers in this extraordinary public health crisis,” but said Beshear and his lieutenants “are faced with the enormous challenge of effectively responding to a world-wide pandemic that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Kentuckians and over 500,000 people in the United States.”

Shepherd said he expects Beshear to keep adjusting restrictions, relaxing them as conditions warrant, “but the court believes those decisions should be made based on medical and scientific evidence, not on arbitrary deadlines imposed by statutes irrespective of the spread of the virus.”

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