The Kentucky Supreme Court on Saturday unanimously ordered Franklin Circuit Court to dissolve an injunction that had blocked several bills limiting Gov. Andy Beshear’s ability to issue emergency orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bills in question, which were passed by the Republican-dominated state legislature despite Democrat Beshear’s veto, set an expiration date for all of his pandemic-related emergency orders: 30 days after passage, they go away unless extended by lawmakers in a special session.
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The case isn’t over, but dissolution of Beshear’s injunction would mean the contested bills become law and stay that way unless reversed by the court system.
In a statement, Beshear spokesperson Crystal Staley condemned the court’s ruling and argued — as Beshear had when he sought an injunction blocking the bills — that it represented a direct threat to the health of Kentuckians during the continuing pandemic.
“It either eliminates or puts at risk large amounts of funding, steps we have taken to increase our health care capacity, expanded meals for children and families, measures to fight COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, worker’s compensation for front-line workers who contract COVID-19 as well as the ability to fight price gouging,” Staley wrote. “It will further prevent the governor from taking additional steps such as a general mask mandate. … The Governor has had the courage to make unpopular decisions in order to keep Kentuckians safe – the court has removed much of his ability to do so moving forward.”
Attorney Brandon Voelker said Saturday's ruling goes beyond masks. He's been against some of the decisions made by Beshear and backed a petition to issue an injunction on a mask mandate for students at the Diocese of Covington schools.
"Right now there's rumors...are they going to shut down restaurants, do this, do that," said Voelker. "Businesses are scared. At least now they know the playbook is that, if there's going to be further restrictions on COVID, you know, they can call their senators, representative and the governor will have to call them back and unless he does that, more than likely there's not going to be further actions, at least from a state level."
Chris Wiest has represented people who've challenged Beshear's response to the pandemic in the past and originally filed a lawsuit to obtain an injunction on Beshear's order requiring masks in private schools. He's also been largely against Beshear's executive orders throughout the pandemic.
"There's a lot of people that come together to debate policy, to weigh the pros and cons before legislation is enacted and legislators enact laws. They weigh the pros and cons and debate it," said Wiest. "There's a process and when it's done by one man, yes, it's an abuse of office."
The Kentucky Education Association disagrees, issuing a statement supporting Beshear's mask mandate.
"It is unfortunate that the Kentucky Supreme Court had no choice but to uphold hyper-partisan actions of the 2021 General Assembly," the statement read. "Today, the coronavirus delta variant is raging across the Commonwealth, active COVID cases are at record levels, available ICU beds have reached near capacity, and in-person learning has been canceled in some school districts. Politicizing public health policy is obviously dangerous. Emergency action by Gov. Beshear to mandate masking in our schools may very well have averted a far worse health disaster for our students and their families."
Like Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who urged his legislature in 2020 not to pass bills limiting his or the Ohio Department of Health’s emergency powers, Beshear has argued that legislative interference makes it harder and slower for the government to protect Kentuckians from COVID-19.
Opponents have accused Beshear of exercising unilateral power and overstepping his position as governor.
The Saturday ruling was the second legal loss of the week for Beshear’s team. On Thursday, a Campbell County judge granted a parent group’s plea for a temporary restraining order against Beshear’s mandatory masking policy in private schools.
Beshear is fighting the decision.