Republican leaders of Kentucky’s legislature say they want to curb Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s power to issue mandates during states of emergency, like the coronavirus pandemic currently gripping the state and nation.
Meanwhile, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron has asked a court to void all Beshear’s coronavirus-related orders, including the mandate that Kentuckians wear masks in most public places. The Kentucky Supreme Court is currently considering the issue.
House Speaker David Osborne said on Tuesday that many Republican members of the legislature believe the governor has misused his emergency powers.
“Just because something is a good policy doesn’t mean that it’s legal, or the governor has authority to do it,” Osborne said during a forum hosted by the Commonwealth Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group.
“There is absolutely an ongoing effort to look at reforming that law.”
State law gives the governor broad powers during states of emergency, including the power to seize property, impose curfews and do anything “deemed necessary to promote and secure the safety and protection of the civilian population” (excluding seizure of firearms and ammunition).
Republicans in Frankfort have increasingly voiced dissatisfaction over Beshear’s actions since the beginning of the pandemic—criticizing mandates that closed nonessential businesses as too broad, panning the state’s reopening as too slow and saying that the governor doesn’t have the right to require people to wear masks during the recent spike in cases.
During the forum on Tuesday, Osborne said Beshear has a “one size fits all” approach that doesn’t adequately consider the state’s economy.
“If your metric is simply the virus, then you ignore the financial ruin that many people are finding themselves in—the despair, the anxiety, the depression,” Osborne said.
But the GOP politicians stop short of saying people shouldn’t wear masks during the pandemic, instead arguing that Beshear doesn’t have the authority to require them to be worn.
In a tweet last week, Cameron said his fight against Beshear’s requirements “is not about the governor’s policies, it’s about making sure he follows the law.”
“The Constitution is not political, & it must be followed even in a pandemic. Across the country, Governors are collaborating with elected leaders from both parties to make sure that COVID-19 restrictions balance public health with the law. This Governor should do the same,” Cameron wrote.
The Republican-led legislature has largely been left out of the state’s coronavirus response since they adjourned their annual session in April, and GOP leaders have indicated that they would like to be included.
After Beshear issued his mask mandate earlier this month, Osborne, Cameron and Senate President Robert Stivers sent him a letter saying, “As usual, you have put forth this order by edict rather than through collaboration.”
Beshear responded last week by saying “it’s just not the law” that he be required to consult the legislature or the attorney general.
“I don’t mean to make them feel left out, but I’ve got a limited amount of time during the day, and I’m talking to public health officials, and I’m talking to other governors,” Beshear said.
Cameron’s court challenge over Beshear’s coronavirus-related orders comes as the state is logging its highest daily totals of new coronavirus cases. On Sunday, Kentucky had 979 new cases of coronavirus, the largest daily increase so far in the pandemic.
Osborne said several GOP legislators are working on bills that would give the legislature more oversight over the governor’s actions during a state of emergency.
Dry Ridge Republican Rep. Savannah Maddox pre-filed a bill for next year’s legislative session that would trigger a special legislative session if a governor’s declared state of emergency lasts longer than 14 days. Providence Republican Rep. Jim Gooch filed a similar bill.