Judge blocks bill that would have removed mask mandate and some other emergency orders if legislature prevails in lawsuit

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip J. Shepherd

A Frankfort judge has widened his roadblock of legislative efforts to limit Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers in the pandemic.Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd added House Joint Resolution 77 to the injunction he issued last month that blocked earlier legislation including Senate Bill 1, which would have limited Beshear’s emergency orders to 30 days unless extended by the General Assembly.

The legislature has adjourned. It passed HJR 77 to implement SB 1 in case it wins its appeal of Shepherd’s injunction. It kept some of Beshear’s orders in effect but left out several others, including his mask mandate.

“In general, it appears that the General Assembly has ratified the governor’s actions related to economic relief for regulated businesses and professions but has attempted to impose a general termination of executive authority to impose public health restrictions (such as masking in public, social distancing, seating capacity or limitations on public gatherings),” Shepherd wrote. “Whether HJR 77 represents a valid exercise of legislative authority or an unconstitutional usurpation of executive authority” is a legal issue that justifies an injunction to maintain the status quo, he said.

Shepherd said Beshear’s emergency orders and regulations are “proper responses to a public health crisis” and “should remain in full force and effect until the entry of a final judgment or until after notice and a hearing on any motion to terminate any such specific executive action.”

On a related issue, Shepherd declined to grant Beshear’s request to block parts of the budget that prohibit spending funds on certain pandemic regulations and activities, because it won’t take effect until July 1. He said Beshear could change those orders of regulations before July 1, and “In any event, the court should be able to fully address the merits of those claims prior to the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.”

In another matter, Shepherd “directed the parties in the lawsuit to meet and confer within the next two days to resolve any concerns related to the implementation of Senate Bill 148,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. “The measure limits the state’s authority to reduce class sizes at child care centers in an emergency.”

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