A Kentucky judge urged Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron and GOP leaders of the legislature to come to a compromise in the power struggle over the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Beshear sued to block three new laws that passed out of the Republican-led legislature earlier this month, arguing they would hamstring his ability to issue executive orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
During a virtual hearing on Thursday, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd said both parties have valid concerns that need to be resolved for the sake of Kentucky citizens.
“The result is not going to be good for the public unless all the parties that are involved in this litigation try to find a third way to address these problems,” Shepherd said.
Republicans have disapproved of Beshear’s handling of the pandemic, and pushed back with legislation. Earlier this year the legislature passed laws requiring the governor to get the body’s approval to extend any state of emergency beyond 30 days and allowing businesses to stay open during the pandemic as long as they follow CDC guidelines. Beshear vetoed those laws, but the legislature overrode the vetoes.
Shepherd said lawmakers and the attorney general have “valid concern” about the balancing of powers in responding to the pandemic.
He said the governor’s argument that the state needs an effective response to the pandemic is an “extremely important consideration for the court.”
But throughout the hearing, the parties argued about whether the legislature has the authority to alter Beshear’s emergency powers, and whether the governor’s attempts to respond to the pandemic were helpful at all.
Victor Maddox, a lawyer representing Cameron, argued Beshear’s orders — like a mask mandate and business closures early on in the pandemic — were ineffective because cases continued to increase.
“If they were effective, you would have expected the trend line going in the opposite direction for six months, wouldn’t you?” Maddox said.
Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said the orders helped slow the spread of the virus.
“You have falsely equated the complete absence of disease with the profound mitigation of disease. We have limited the harm that Kentuckians have faced dramatically in the state of Kentucky,” Stack said.
Earlier this month, Shepherd temporarily blocked a new law that allows businesses and schools to stay open during the pandemic as long as they follow CDC guidelines, saying it “could likely wreak havoc on public health.”
Shepherd said there is a “window of opportunity” to resolve the case before the legislature adjourns its annual session on March 30.