UPDATE: Governor files lawsuit over Legislature vetoes

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UPDATE POSTED 6:30 P.M. FEB. 2, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) In response to legislative action Tuesday evening, Gov. Andy Beshear filed a lawsuit to stop lawmakers from stripping the governor of the ability to implement lifesaving public health measures during a pandemic that has killed more than 3,700 Kentuckians at a time when the country is experiencing the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and vaccine supplies remain limited.

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Just over two months ago, the Kentucky Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled the Governor’s lifesaving measures were both legal and necessary. The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Franklin Circuit Courtseeks to keep these measures in place.

“Today, the General Assembly attempted to surrender to COVID-19 and accept the casualties. As your Governor, I cannot let this happen,” Gov. Beshear said. “I have filed this action to continue to fight for the protection of all Kentuckians.”

To date, Kentucky has fared better than other states, seeing fewer cases and significantly fewer deaths. Adjusted for population, Kentucky has lost less than two-thirds the number of lives to COVID-19 as Tennessee, a state that refuses to impose a mask mandate.

Kentucky has lost less than half the lives lost in North or South Dakota, states that refused to enact any mitigation measures until they recorded the highest mortality rates in the world, the governor noted in a statement.

“The lesson is clear: When a governor takes action, his or her state experiences fewer deaths,” the governor said. “When a governor does not, the results are tragic.”

Repeating arguments he’s made previously, without the ability to continue to implement lifesaving measures, the governor said chaos would ensue, as Kentuckians would have to read nearly 175 different guidance documents on the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a Jan. 11, 2021, letter, the CDC said its guidance should not be used in this way.

Instead, the governor said his administration, including health experts like Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Department for Public Health, continually have listened to CDC experts and applied the guidance in Kentucky.

The Governor said now is not the time to surrender to the virus. In fact, public health authorities have warned that the coming months will be very deadly, forecasting 200,000 additional American deaths by May 1, an almost 50% increase of the already tragic toll. Along with the rise of the new coronavirus variants, public health experts agree that strong state mitigation efforts remain critical.

A recent excerpt from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, is mentioned in the lawsuit brief. He states that while the vaccine is cause for celebration, active public health measures must continue. “The eventual vaccine is ‘not going to do it alone, though,’ he said. ‘That’s the important point. This should not be a signal to pull back on the public health measures that we must continue to implement.’”

Prior to the General Assembly overriding three of the Governor’s vetoes, he sent a letter to Speaker of the House David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers seeking to meet and discuss a compromise.

Stivers and Osborne, who have complained the Governor has not communicated with them, responded in a letter the day before overriding the veto. They indicated they had received the Governor’s letter 12 days earlier but insisted the timing of the legislative session “will make such discussions a challenge” and that “given our time constraints we are compelled to proceed with the veto override votes this week.” They wrote that, after legislators vetoed the bills, they would be “happy to sit down with you as soon as schedules allow.”

The Governor has said throughout the pandemic that each decision he has made was tough, but he made them to protect the lives of more Kentuckians. In response, Kentuckians widely support the Governor’s efforts, with 86% support for asking people to stay at home and avoid gathering in groups; 78% support for limiting restaurants to carry-out only; and 73% support for prohibiting K-12 schools from teaching in-person.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 6;15 P.M. TUESDAY, FEB. 2, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Part two of the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2021 Session kicked off with lawmakers overriding gubernatorial vetoes.

On lawmakers’ first day back at the Capitol after a recess, the Senate and House of Representatives voted today to override six vetoes recently cast by Gov. Andy Beshear.

The veto of Senate Bill 1 was overridden in the Senate 29-8 and in the House 69-20. SB 1 will dictate that executive orders that place restrictions on the function of schools, businesses or nonprofits expire after 30 days – unless extended by the General Assembly. The same would go for executive orders that regulate political, religious and social gatherings or impose mandatory quarantines or isolation requirements.

The veto of Senate Bill 2, was overridden in the Senate 31-6 and the House 69-20. SB 2 will require some administrative regulations to last no longer than 30 days if, for example, they impose restrictions on gatherings or mandatory quarantines.

Sen. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro, said he was proud to be the primary sponsor of SB 1 when voting to override.

“To our small business owners, our restaurants, our families at home teaching their children right now … the past 333 days have been tough on this state,” he said about executive actions imposing COVID-19 restrictions. “We gladly look forward to having a seat at the table representing all corners of Kentucky in the decisions going forward.”

Minority Floor Leader Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he voted against SB 1 because it would handcuff executive branch officials during crises when the General Assembly is not in session.

“This is a part-time legislature,” he said. “This is a full-time executive. We should be shaping policies that help people now and into the future. I don’t think this bill does that.”

In voting to override SB 1, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the framers of the Kentucky Constitution envisioned legislators having input in policies concerning emergencies such as a pandemic. He said legislative input was critical in restoring the balance of power in the state – even if it required a special session.

The House voted 72-22 to override the governors’ veto on House Bill 1 while the Senate voted 29-8. HB 1 will create a framework for businesses, local governments, schools and nonprofits to operate during COVID-19 restrictions.

Rep. Richard White, R-Morehead, said on the House floor today he believes HB 1 gives the General Assembly a say in how the state responds to COVID-19.

“I think we should have a little voice in somethings that’s being said down here and I think it’s a responsibility of ours,” he said.

Several legislators spoke against the bill, including Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, who said the bill is unconstitutional.

Lawmakers also voted to override vetoes on House Bills 2, 3 and 5.

  • HB 2 will give the attorney general greater authority to enforce laws concerning abortion clinics in Kentucky. The House voted 73-20 and the Senate 32-5 to override the governor’s veto.
  • HB 3 will allow civil actions regarding the constitutionality of a Kentucky statute, executive order, administrative regulation or order of any cabinet be filed outside of Franklin County, which has played a longstanding role in deciding those types of cases. Non-residents of Kentucky will continue to file in Franklin County Circuit Court. The House voted 71-23 and the Senate voted 30-7 to override the governor’s veto.
  • HB 5 will require legislative approval of any changes the governor makes to the organizational structure of the executive branch. The House voted 71-23 and the Senate voted 30-7 to override the governor’s veto.

With the veto overrides, these bills become law after they have been recorded by the Secretary of State. An ijuctio by a judge could block immediate implementation.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 6 P.M. TUESDAY, FEB. 2, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/AP) — As expected Tuesday afternoon, the Kentucky House and Senate easily overrode Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of four House bills and two Senate bills approved in the opening days of the current legislative session.

The votes were largely along party lines with Republicans having a super majority in both the House and Senate. In the Senate, at most two Democrats switched sides.

Some procedural matters to log the votes are the only things that stand in the way of the measures becoming law, barring legal action and Beshear has promised to go to court, possibly as early as Wednesday to block at least some of the measures from becoming law.

“If their comment is ’We’re going to override your vetoes no matter what and maybe we can talk later,′ I guess mine is: ‘We’ll see you in court,’” Beshear said in advance of the anticipated vetoes. “I cannot and will not let the health and the lives of the people of Kentucky be put in this danger when we are so close to getting out of this.”

The Senate overrode the veto of two of its measures 29-8 and 31-6 and the four House bills 29-8, 32-5, 30-7, and 30-7.

The Senate has 8 Democrats but one didn’t vote.

The Senate did its business in 40 minutes and the House took up the overrides of the two Senate bills just before 6 p.m.

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, a Louisville Democrat, Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson, a Lexington Democrat, and Rep. Rachel Roberts, a Newport Democrat, were the only speakers before the House voted 69-20 to agree with the Senate on Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 2.

“This bill is not the solution,” Stevenson said of Senate Bill 2, which she said will end a variety of programs, such as the state’s ability to increase SNAP program increases totaling $41 million this month alone.

“More people are going to die as a result of this bill,” Cantrell added, noting many lawmakers are voting simply to satisfy political wills.

Not surprisingly, the two political parties had far different positions.

“We applaud our Republican super majorities for taking these actions. Time and time again, the governor refuses to work with lawmakers and constitutional officers, instead issuing unilateral orders and overreaching executive authority. Our Republican legislative super majorities’ action today will help more Kentucky schools, small businesses and working families get back on track,” said Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Mac Brown. 

“Today, Republicans in Frankfort continued to put their own petty grievances ahead of the needs of hard working Kentuckians. Governor Beshear’s actions have saved lives. He has continuously stepped up to help Kentuckians through the pandemic. Governor Beshear made an effort to work with the Republican majority in good faith, but they clearly do not seek solutions or good governance. They only seek power and control at the expense of everybody else. They misled the public for months about their true intentions, but their refusal to work with Governor Beshear is a clear signal to all Kentuckians that they cannot be trusted to do the right thing,” countered Marisa McNee, spokesperson for the Kentucky Democratic Party:

House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers sent a letter earlier Monday informing the governor of their plans to sweep aside his veto. Their letter was a response to the governor’s recent overture outlining possible compromises.

Beshear maintains the steps he has taken to limit activity during the pandemic saved lives. He has said the GOP-backed bills amount to unconstitutional encroachments on his legal authority to respond to emergencies.

The legislative leaders’ letter was obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request.

In the letter, Osborne and Stivers offered to talk later about possible modifications after the votes.

“Given our time constraints, we are compelled to proceed with the veto override votes this week,” they wrote. “Regardless of the outcome of those votes, we will be happy to sit down with you as soon as schedules allow and talk about what modifications might improve the legislation and its application to the ongoing pandemic.”

Holding supermajorities in the House and Senate, Republicans have the numbers to override the governor’s vetoes. Passage of the bills dominated the early part of this year’s legislative session.

Later Monday, Beshear told reporters that he put compromise offers on the table and followed up repeatedly to gauge whether the top GOP lawmakers were willing to meet.

“And then the day before the session’s about the start, we got a letter saying, ‘We don’t have time, we’re going to override your vetoes and maybe we can talk after,’” the governor said.

In threatening to go to court, Beshear said, the measures would undo crucial rules — such as the mask mandate and limits on gatherings — to combat the coronavirus.

In their letter, Osborne and Stivers told the governor that discussing possible changes to the bills would be a challenge given the amount of work ahead for lawmakers in the short session. Tuesday will be the ninth day of the 30-day session.

Lawmakers have a new state budget and several other issues to confront, including legislation to preserve historical race wagering — a priority for the state’s horse tracks. Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that at least some forms of historical race wagering don’t meet pari-mutuel wagering standards under Kentucky law.

Osborne and Stivers signaled that override votes will be on the agenda. One vetoed bill would limit the governor’s executive orders in times of emergency to 30 days unless extended by lawmakers. It would apply to orders restricting in-person meetings of schools, businesses and religious gatherings or when imposing quarantine or isolation requirements.

That was overridden 72-22.

Republican lawmakers have complained about the length of the governor’s emergency powers. In his letter, Beshear suggested linking the timeframe of a state emergency to the corresponding federal emergency declaration, giving him additional leeway to respond to the crisis.

Beshear also proposed creating an obligation for a governor’s administration, during times of emergency, to report to a legislative committee monthly on the state of the emergency and the steps taken to deal with it. That was a response to another frequent complaint from GOP lawmakers — that they weren’t consulted as the governor devised the state’s coronavirus response.

Beshear also raised concerns in his letter about another bill that would eliminate the governor’s ability to temporarily reorganize boards, commissions, agencies and cabinets when the legislature isn’t in session. He warned those limitations could at times prevent the “faithful execution” of law and could disqualify Kentucky from some federal grants.
The House overrode that veto 71-23.

Another vetoed bill would require businesses and schools to comply either with COVID-19 guidelines from the governor or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They could follow whichever standard is least restrictive. Republican lawmakers said that would instill greater certainty to keep businesses and schools open as the battle against the virus continues.

That override also was 71-23 in the House.

The veto of a bill giving Attorney General Daniel Cameron control over enforcement of some abortion laws was 73-20.