This week the Kentucky General Assembly decided to push back against Governor Andy Beshear, with the Republican supermajority in the House and Senate overriding several of his vetoes with a simple majority vote.
Those overrides included passage of House Bill 1 (HB1), Senate Bill 1 (SB1), SB2, HB2, HB3, and HB5. Most of these bills are related, in some way, to Beshear’s orders intended to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd handed down a thirty-day restraining order on HB1, SB1 and SB2, HB2, HB3 and HB5 were allowed to stand as passed.
Senator Robin Webb decried the partisan game playing and praised the actions of Judge Shepherd in her legislative update for the week, writing, “We are facing a deadly public health crisis, and these laws could hinder the progress Kentucky has made in the battle against COVID-19.”
“Emergencies call for swift action, especially when there are lives at stake,” Webb continued. “We need a clear-cut solution that is not at the expense of Kentuckians’ health and one that does not cause more confusion.”
We couldn’t agree with Webb any more if we tried.
The Republican supermajority certainly has the right to do what their constituents elected them to do. This includes standing up to what they see as gubernatorial overreach. There are definitely some examples of them voting on behalf of their constituent concerns with their overrides.
The override of Beshear’s veto on HB2, which gives the Commonwealth’s Attorney General authority to enforce abortion clinic laws in Kentucky, would be one example. With Kentucky’s strong “Right to Life” advocacy, there is no arguing with the fact that lawmakers were acting in the interest of those who voted for them on this veto (though, like with any expansion of power, it’s one that could come back to bite the GOP if a Democrat Attorney General is elected in the future).
On HB1, SB1, and SB2, however, the overrides are purely examples of partisan posturing – posturing that could hurt Kentucky’s response to the pandemic crisis. Judge Phillips, pressuring the governor and assembly to come to a consensus and resolve issues with negotiation rather than legislation, wrote that HB1, SB1, and SB2, “could create chaos and undermine any effective enforcement of public health standards to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.”
HB1 would allow restaurants, businesses, churches, local governments, and school districts to remain open at their own discretion, throughout the remainder of the year, as long as they meet CDC guidelines related to gatherings.
SB1 limits the effective dates for orders and regulations issued under executive emergency powers to 30 days, unless the General Assembly grants an extension, as well as prohibiting the governor from issuing new orders during an emergency without approval from the assembly. While this would definitely limit Beshear’s power – and efficacy in dealing with the pandemic response – like HB2 it’s the kind of limitation that could frustrate Republicans in the future if the tables are reversed.
SB2, which is also subject to the 30-day restraining order, requires agencies to submit evidence to the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee before declaring an emergency. It would also expand the legislative review to committees beyond the regulation review subcommittee and limit regulations to 30 days if they directly impact education institutions, private businesses, nonprofits, churches, and political or social gatherings.
Let’s be clear, we’re all ready for a return to normal. We all want an end to restrictions that have hurt the viability of our small businesses. We definitely want a return to school for our children. But we can’t force these changes before they are safe simply because we want a return to normal. Doing so will lead to more illness, more death, and could cause an end to the pandemic – and a true return to normal – to drag out even longer.
Kentucky’s COVID-19 response was very successful at helping curb and control the spread of the virus early on, and cited as a model for neighboring states to follow. When our neighbors from other states didn’t follow Beshear’s example, however, their high numbers impacted Kentucky’s numbers – extending the time needed for a true recovery.
A year later, with vaccinations slowly trickling out as available, an end to restrictions may actually be in sight. But we can’t skip straight to the finish line simply because we’re tired of running the race. We need to let this run its course, and part of that is allowing the governor to do what has been proven to help slow the spread. It is not the time to play politics with the lives of our friends, family and loved ones.
We have two choices right now as a state. We can keep picking at the scab, making it take longer to heal and possibly leading to long-term scarring. Or we can stay the course, leave the bandages alone, and let our wounds heal fully before we go peeling the band-aid off.
We thank Senator Webb for her consistent leadership on this and other topics important to her constituents, and urge her colleagues across the aisle to work with, rather than against, the governor, for the good of all Kentuckians.