Bill shielding businesses from COVID lawsuits becomes law

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s governor stood aside and let a bill become law that protects an array of businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. But he warned Monday that the measure is likely to draw a court challenge.

The measure, backed by business interests, became law this past weekend without Gov. Andy Beshear’s signature. A veto would have killed the bill since the legislative session has ended.

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The Democratic governor pointed to the efforts of Republican House Speaker David Osborne to allay concerns about the bill as a reason he allowed it to become law.

“He actively worked with those that would have typically opposed this type of law and significantly narrowed it,” Beshear said at a news conference.

Beshear, a former state attorney general, said that despite the last-minute changes, the new law is likely to be challenged on constitutional issues.

“Now do I think there will be a court challenge? Yes. Do I think the law now could be potentially thrown out in a court challenge? Yes. But I do believe, especially on the House side, there was a real effort to hear voices on both sides and to try to get the law into a better place. And I did want to recognize that, knowing the rest of this will ultimately play out in the court system,” Beshear said.

The bill’s lead sponsor was Republican Senate President Robert Stivers. The measure was in limbo for weeks but a pared-down version cleared the GOP-led legislature shortly before this year’s session ended. That version aims to protect businesses from lawsuits that claim someone contracted COVID-19 while at their place of business, so long as the business tried to follow guidelines.

Those protections wouldn’t apply if businesses engaged in practices deemed as grossly negligent or as willful or intentional misconduct.

During legislative debate, supporters said the liability protections are crucial for businesses looking to recover from losses caused by the pandemic. The bill’s opponents portrayed the liability shield as an overreach that would interfere with constitutional protections on access to the courts.

The legislation is Senate Bill 5.

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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.