Kentucky Politics

A Republican state representative has filed a measure that would allow people and businesses to sue the governor if they feel emergency restrictions are unnecessary, too broad or last too long.

The legislation comes after Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, has ordered many businesses across the state to be shut down or closed to in-person traffic during the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Savannah Maddox, a Republican from Dry Ridge and the measure’s sponsor, said in an email that it would protect Kentucky workers and business owners from government overreach.

“Although the amendment does not interfere with the executive branch’s ability to issue executive orders pertaining to a state of emergency, it provides due remedy of law through a system of checks and balances designed to keep our government accountable for any action which is determined in a court of law to infringe upon civil liberty or unnecessarily restrict commerce,” Maddox wrote.

“My purpose in filing this amendment was not to criticize or undermine the Governor’s efforts, rather to ensure that any use of government force is appropriately balanced with the consent of the governed in accordance with our Constitutional rights.”

On Wednesday, Beshear announced that all non-life sustaining businesses in Kentucky will close in response to the pandemic. There are now 168 confirmed cases of the disease in Kentucky. Four people have fully recovered and four people with the disease have died.

Maddox’s measure came in the form of an amendment to House Bill 322, which originally dealt with asset forfeiture. Under the amendment, the bill’s original language would be stripped.

The measure would require the administration to prove “the existence of an emergency, disease outbreak, public health threat, or similar ordinance,” that the order was “no broader than necessary” and that “due regard was given for the impact of such orders on the public at large, public safety, and the long term economic impact.”

The measure would allow anyone who feels they have been “adversely effected” (sic) by an emergency order to sue in the county where they live.

A local circuit court would be required to hold a hearing within seven days. The measure would allow judges to exempt individuals or businesses from the order if they prove that “their personal or business activities do not in fact present a substantial risk of furthering the emergency.”

The bill would also allow judges to vacate the entire emergency order.

Leaders of Kentucky’s House Democratic caucus said in a statement that the bill is unnecessary.

“We think Governor Beshear is doing exactly what needs to be done during this time of unprecedented crisis. We see no merit in any effort to undermine that work, especially while we’re still in a state of emergency,” the statement read.

Maddox was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2018. Last year she sponsored the bill that now allows Kentuckians to carry concealed firearms without a license.

Kentucky’s legislature is still holding meetings during the coronavirus pandemic and access to the State Capitol campus is now restricted to only lawmakers, staff and reporters. The full legislature is scheduled to meet on Thursday at 2:00 pm Eastern.

This story has been updated.

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