FRANKFORT, Ky. – On the first day of the General Assembly session, legislators filed bills to limit the governor’s emergency powers, and some said Gov. Andy Beshear was about to pay the price for not consulting with them as he issued mandates to thwart the coronavirus pandemic over the last 10 months.
“If you’re not gonna work with us, if you’re not gonna be a partner with us, why should you expect otherwise?” asked Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield.
Leaders of the Senate’s Republican majority gave the chamber’s top-priority number, Senate Bill 1, to a measure that would make emergency orders expire after 30 days unless ratified by the legislature.
The General Assembly meets for 30 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years and only the governor can call it into session. Democrats said the legislature’s part-time nature requires a strong executive, but Meredith said that during the pandemic, it hasn’t been part-time.
“Every day we have to deal with these issues,” he said, noting his work with constituents on pandemic-related problems. “We’ve had to deal with the pain of this every day.”
Senate Bill 2 would require contagious-disease rules issued by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to be in the form of administrative regulations, which must be reviewed by legislators before taking effect.
Many of Beshear’s mandates have taken the form of such rules, with immediate effect. The sponsor of SB 2, Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, said the Beshear administration has been unwilling to provide forums for public comment on the rules, a process required for regulations.
The bill would also expand legislative review to subject-matter committees beyond the Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee, and limit some regulations to 30 days “if they impact educational institutions, private business, non-profits, political and social gatherings and places of worship,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.
The opening session gave lawmakers an opportunity to vent. None was more outraged than Sen. Danny Carroll.
Carroll, R-Paducah, referred to Beshear’s use of “Team Kentucky,” a slogan the governor borrowed from his election campaign to emphasize his pandemic mantra of “We will get through this together.”
“I have never felt so left out of a team,” Carroll said. “We have been shut out completely from decisions that have been made.” He said Beshear “missed an opportunity to pull this state together as never before at a time when we needed it more than ever before.”
In committee meetings, Carroll has repeatedly criticized the administration’s use of data about the pandemic, such as early figures on the percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus. Tuesday, he alleged motive.
“The governor was putting out a positivity rate to terrify all our people when he didn’t even have all the numbers,” which led some people to stop listening to him, Carroll said: “How many lives have been lost because of that?”
Beshear, at his daily briefing, declined to comment on the bills and speeches, saying he hadn’t seen or heard any because he was busy rolling out the coronavirus vaccine and finalizing his budget proposal.
Senate President Robert Stivers, who has criticized Beshear for not consulting with him and House Speaker David Osborne about the pandemic response, said in a floor speech, “I would encourage the governor’s office to engage us as to how it can be better performed on administrative regulations.”
Stivers, a Manchester lawyer, sponsored SB 5, which would limit the civil liability of businesses during the pandemic and other emergencies to give them “some sense of security that they are not going to be sued,” he said. “Businesses are scared to death because of the ever-moving and changing criteria.”
Senate Democratic Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said the bills are overreach by the legislature. “We heard the partisan power grab and the political hot-button issues,” but nothing about raising workers’ wages, making sure all Kentuckians have access to affordable health care, making investments in education needed due to the pandemic, or combating systemic racism, he said.