Kentucky Politics

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and leaders of the Republican-led legislature are negotiating exactly how to dissolve a court ruling that blocked new laws limiting the governor’s powers.

The development means Kentucky’s state of emergency related to the coronavirus will remain in effect until Beshear and Republican lawmakers tell Franklin Circuit Court how they’d like to move forward.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled last weekend that the lower court incorrectly blocked the laws earlier this year, which include a measure restricting Beshear’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature. The high court ordered Franklin Circuit Court to dissolve its injunction.

But during a status conference on Thursday, lawyers for Beshear and GOP Senate President Robert Stivers asked for 10 days to come up with an agreed plan before the court vacates the ruling.

David Fleenor, general counsel for Stivers, said legislators are talking to the governor’s office about a potential solution that would preserve some of Beshear’s coronavirus policies.

“There are probably a lot of areas of agreement of things we’re going to ultimately want to keep in place,” Fleenor said.

Beshear is considering calling a special legislative session for lawmakers to pass coronavirus-related policies, including a renewal of the state of emergency related to the pandemic.

Beshear and Stivers have said the state could lose some federal assistance if the emergency declaration is allowed to expire.

On Thursday, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd said he didn’t want his ruling to hurt the state’s ability to respond to the pandemic.

“It’s obvious the public health situation is escalating to a very extreme level, and it appears from the news accounts both the legislature and the governor are contemplating different actions and the possibility of calling a special session. A lot of things are on the table now,” Shepherd said.

It’s unclear what the Republican-led legislature would support if Beshear calls a special legislative session. Throughout the pandemic, GOP lawmakers have focused most of their energies on limiting Beshear’s powers and haven’t weighed in on how they would like to address the crisis.

The coronavirus has been surging in Kentucky. The state logged its third-highest daily increase in cases on Wednesday—4,849—and 65 new deaths. Hospitals are reporting strains on hospital beds, ICU capacity and available ventilators. The coronavirus test positivity rate is a record-high 13.16%.

Shepherd asked for Beshear and Republican legislative leaders to come up with an agreed order within 10 days.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.