FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican lawmakers delivered final votes Tuesday to limit the Democratic governor’s authority to order restrictions to combat COVID-19, setting up a legal showdown over the extent of executive powers in Kentucky.
Wielding their supermajority power, GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate voted to override a series of vetoes issued last month by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. The votes amounted to a repudiation of the governor’s nearly 11-month strategy to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Beshear announced immediately that he has filed a lawsuit to block the new measures, warning that “chaos would ensue” in the fight against the pandemic if they’re allowed to take effect. The governor maintains the steps he has taken to limit activity during the pandemic have saved lives.
“Today, the General Assembly attempted to surrender to COVID-19 and accept the casualties,” Beshear said in a news release. “As your governor, I cannot let this happen. I have filed this action to continue to fight for the protection of all Kentuckians.”
Republican lawmakers pushed ahead with the series of override votes, knowing of Beshear’s threat to mount a legal challenge if they did so.
Unable to muster enough votes to preserve the governor’s unhindered authority, Democrats issued dire warnings about the possible consequences.
Mentioning the flags planted on the statehouse grounds to honor Kentuckians who died from the virus, Democratic Rep. Angie Hatton said: “There could have been a whole lot more” without Beshear’s actions.
“We need to keep in mind what our grandchildren will think of our actions at this time,” Hatton added. “When they ask, ‘What did you do, grandma or grandpa, when this pandemic was raging? What did you do to help?’ I want to be on the right side of history.’”
Republicans saw their votes as putting checks on what they view as Beshear’s overreach with his orders putting restrictions on businesses, schools and individuals. They have criticized him for not consulting with them before taking his actions.
“We gladly look forward to having a seat at the table representing all corners of Kentucky in the decisions going forward,” said Republican Sen. Matt Castlen.
Beshear had already signaled the fight wasn’t over, warning Monday he would go to court to challenge the new laws if the legislature pushed aside his vetoes.
The legislature completed fast-track work last month on the measures to rein in the governor’s executive powers. Passage of the bills dominated the early portion of this year’s session.
Lawmakers immediately took up the veto overrides Tuesday on their first day back in session after an extended break.
GOP lawmakers voted to override a vetoed bill that would limit the governor’s executive orders in times of emergency to 30 days unless extended by lawmakers. It applies to orders that restrict in-person meetings of schools, businesses and religious gatherings or impose mandatory quarantine or isolation requirements.
Under another bill that won a veto override, businesses and schools would have to comply either with COVID-19 guidelines from the governor or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They could follow whichever standard is least restrictive. Democrats warned that measure would cause greater confusion and cede authority to the federal government.
In condemning that measure, Beshear said Kentuckians would have to read nearly 175 different CDC guidance documents in determining which standards to follow.