Kentucky Politics

When the Republican-led Kentucky legislature goes back into session in January, it will likely have the opportunity to end the coronavirus state of emergency declared by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

That’s because earlier this year lawmakers passed—and Beshear signed—Senate Bill 150, which included language requiring the governor to set a date ending the state of emergency before the next session or the legislature would be free to decide whether to continue it.

“Notwithstanding any state law to the contrary, the Governor shall declare, in writing, the date upon which the state of emergency in response to COVID-19, declared on March 6, 2020, by Executive Order 2020-215, has ceased,” the law states.

“In the event no such declaration is made by the Governor on or before the first day of the next regular session of the General Assembly, the General Assembly may make the determination.”

The next legislative session begins on January 5.

In a statement, Beshear spokesman Sebastian Kitchen wrote that any change to the governor’s emergency powers would hinder the the state’s ability to respond to the virus.

“The Governor hopes lawmakers will allow the continued response necessary to combat this deadly pandemic, which the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously ruled was constitutional and necessary to save lives, and debate these measures after the threat from this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic,” Kitchen wrote

Republican lawmakers have been upset with Beshear’s handling of the pandemic, especially his recent orders closing schools and indoor services at bars and restaurants as the virus surges across the state and nation.

Republican leaders of the legislature have said they want to alter Beshear’s power to declare states of emergency, or issue emergency orders when they return.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, said he is in favor of ending the state of emergency and that people can make their own decisions related to the pandemic.

“I am. I don’t think a state of emergency should continue in perpetuity. I think we can manage our way out of this without having a state of emergency,” Thayer said Wednesday morning.

“I hear that a lot from my constituents. They are aware of it and they know it is real, but they feel like we can make our own decisions and that these statewide executive orders are really unnecessary.”

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville, said that declaring or ending a state of emergency should be left up to the governor.

“You don’t want the legislature being responsible for declaring a state of emergency. That is why we have an executive. Declaring a state of emergency and then deploying all the resources necessary to deal with that emergency is an executive function,” McGarvey said.

Earlier this month the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed Beshear’s power to issue emergency orders during the pandemic, ruling against a lawsuit brought by Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron and several Northern Kentucky business owners.

A survey conducted for the Associated Press before this year’s election showed 63% of Kentucky voters approving of Beshear’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. A Spectrum News/ IPSOS poll conducted in October showed 66% approving.

This story has been updated.

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