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Bills could change governor's emergency order power

Posted at 6:54 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 18:59:06-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Blink, and you'll miss it.

Bills are moving through the 2021 General Assembly very quickly - especially the ones related to the pandemic.

"I've been up here for 19 years, and this is the fastest I've seen bills come out of committee and on to the floor of either the House or the Senate," said Rep. Derrick Graham during Friday's House State Government Committee meeting.

The committee took up Senate Bill 1, which the Senate has already passed after being introduced on Tuesday. The bill sets a 30 days limit on the governor's emergency orders. If the governor wants to renew an order, the legislature must be called in.

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.

However, democrats see it differently. They voiced concern that the bill is a dangerous power grab that takes power away from the governor and gives it to the legislature.

Critics worry it'll also create problems during an emergency when a governor often needs to make decisions quickly.

"We are lucky that we have the lowest [COVID] numbers of any of the surrounding states, and that is largely because Gov. Beshear has kept us safe," said Rep. Patti Minter. "Are there things that could be done differently? Yes. This is not the way to do it. I vote absolutely not."

However, that no vote was not enough to stop the bill from passing out of committee. It will now head to the House floor for a full vote.

Another pandemic-related bill close to becoming law is House Bill 1. It gives businesses and schools the ability to stay open during the pandemic as long as they follow CDC guidelines.

"House Bill 1 is the majority's attempt to provide clarity and assurance to our businesses and schools, especially those that have been so hardly impacted by the COVID-19 virus and the subsequent shut-downs here in our great Commonwealth," said the bill's sponsor Rep. Bart Rowland while talking about the bill on Thursday. "That's reassurance to them that if they can operate safely - in a manner that protects both employees and patrons, or students if they are a school - that they can remain open."

Critics of the bill worry this will allow COVID-19 to further spread throughout Kentucky.

"All of us have had a rough time with these restrictions, especially our small businesses. But the way to re-open our economy is to defeat COVID-19," said Rep. Angie Hatton, the House Minority Whip. "Despite all of these precautions, we still have 350,000 or so dead in the United States, and in Kentucky, we have 244 fellow Kentuckians on ventilators - struggling to breathe and fighting for their lives. If one of those is not your family member, maybe those statistics don't get to you. But these businesses are closed because of this virus, and until we allow the governor the leeway he needs to defeat this virus, we are never going to reopen our economy. "

House Bill 1 passed the House in a 73-15 vote.

Both House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1 are close to completing the legislative process. Lawmakers have also altered their schedule, so they will be in on Saturday and early next week. This gives them enough time to pass these bills.

The governor can veto the bills. However, Republicans have super-majorities in both chambers, so they have the votes to override the governor's potential veto.