Judge hears arguments in showdown between Beshear, lawmakers

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Hearing delayed for judge accused of misconduct

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A temporary court order blocking a new Kentucky law restricting the governor’s authority to combat COVID-19 was being extended Thursday, as a judge reviews the constitutional showdown between Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

After a four-hour hearing, Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said he would extend the restraining order and hopes to rule within about 10 days on competing motions. One motion seeks an injunction blocking GOP-backed laws reining in Beshear’s executive powers in times of emergency. Another motion seeks to dissolve the order in place against one of the measures.

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The restraining order is currently blocking a measure that would allow Kentucky businesses and schools to comply either with COVID-19 guidelines from Beshear’s administration or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — whichever standard is least restrictive.

Another new law being challenged by Beshear would limit his executive orders in times of emergency to 30 days unless extended by lawmakers. It applies to orders restricting schools, businesses and religious gatherings or imposing mandatory quarantine or isolation requirements.

Under that measure’s 30-day timeline, the governor’s current pandemic-related executive orders are set to expire in early March, said his general counsel, Amy Cubbage.

Shepherd said he wants to rule before then, and he asked lawyers to provide him a list of all executive orders and emergency regulations that would expire under measures being challenged.

The judge continued to urge the competing sides to find “common ground” to resolve the dispute, which he said is rooted in a “communications gap.”

“It has almost universally, up until recently, been the case that public health issues have been dealt with in a nonpartisan way,” Shepherd said.

The high-stakes case revolves around two separate sets of issues, the judge said. One is the effect the new laws would have on the state’s response to the pandemic, he said.

“The urgent need to have an effective response to a pandemic is an extremely important consideration for the court,” the judge said.

The other issue revolves around the balance of power in state government and whether Beshear’s coronavirus-related orders put “an undue burden on certain segments of the public,” Shepherd said.

“In this case, we have the intersection of these political questions with regard to the distribution of powers of government, that have come head on in conflict with the public health response to a pandemic,” he said.

GOP legislators argue the governor overreached with restrictions on businesses and individuals. The governor maintains the steps he took to limit activity during the pandemic have saved lives.

Beshear sued immediately, seeking a court order striking down the new laws after the GOP-dominated legislature voted to override his vetoes of the measures.

Kentucky’s public health commissioner, Dr. Steven Stack, testified at Tuesday’s hearing that the measures would “functionally render me powerless” in combating the ongoing pandemic.

Defending the Beshear administration’s response to the public health crisis, Stack said: “There are clearly things we wish could have been done differently or we had more options. But I do assert we tried in good faith to keep the most number of people safe in Kentucky.”

The other new law being challenged by Beshear would give legislative committees more oversight and control over the governor’s emergency administrative regulations.

It’s the latest round of court fights over Beshear’s response to the pandemic. Last year, Kentucky’s Supreme Court upheld the governor’s authority to issue coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and individuals to try to contain the spread of COVID-19.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.