NewsCovering Kentucky


General Assembly passes bills restricting governor's emergency orders, ability to regulate businesses and schools during pandemic

Posted at 7:34 PM, Jan 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-10 10:14:52-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — In a rare Saturday session, the Kentucky General Assembly gave final passage to several bills - including two that will have an impact during the pandemic.

In a 75-21 vote, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 1. The bill put a 30-day limit on any of the governor's emergency orders that require any mandatory quarantine or isolation and limit in-person gatherings at schools, businesses, or religious groups. If the governor wants to renew the order, the legislature must be called in to act.

The bill also prevents the governor and secretary of state from deciding the manner of elections during an emergency. This gives the legislature the sole power to decide how Kentucky elections will be held during an emergency.

Republican lawmakers in favor of the bill say it gives other people a say in the decision-making process.

“This gives the ability for all corners of Kentucky to be able to come to the table and to be able to have a little say-so in an emergency order that might dip into every part of their life - from their freedoms, from the economy to their livelihoods," said the bill's sponsor Sen. Matt Castlen during a committee hearing on Friday.

However, critics of the bill worry about this will make it difficult for the governor to act quickly in an emergency. They're also concerned about the implications this will have during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Just think about that. We’re in a situation now where there’s not one, but two new strains of viruses that are more contagious and potentially more deadly," said Sen. Reggie Thomas. "And what Senate Bill 1 does is after 30 days all executive orders by the governor stop and we take control."

The General Assembly also gave House Bill 1 final passage on Saturday. The bill restricts the governor's ability to regulate or close businesses and schools during the pandemic.

The bill allows schools and businesses to stay open during the pandemic if they follow guidelines. Originally, the bill set the CDC as the only group allowed to set the guidelines. However, a last-minute change was made to also include the governor's recommendations. So, businesses and schools can stay open if they follow guidelines either set by the CDC or by the governor - whichever ones are less restrictive.

Democrats criticized how quickly the bills were passed. The General Assembly gaveled in on Tuesday and on Saturday passed six bills - making this a quick process.

Some lawmakers believe there hasn't been enough time to properly go through the bills to understand their implications. They're also worried the public may not know about all the changes, especially since the public is limited from coming to the Capitol in-person this year.

"Add this in with the COVID restrictions where the public is not coming in, maybe not able to hear what’s going on in committee, not being here in the gallery to watch what goes on - I think that adds some concern to the speed too," said House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins.

However, Republican leaders say they're moving quickly because these bills are needed now.

"Because they are vitally important," said House Speaker David Osborne. "I think that they are timely, and I do believe time is of the essence. People are begging for relief in a number of ways."

Governor Andy Beshear is expected to veto the bills. However, Republicans have the numbers to override the vetoes. That leaves the governor with the option of a lawsuit.