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Ky. Legislature Sends Beshear Bills Limiting Pandemic Powers

Ryland Barton
Kentucky Public Radio

  The Kentucky legislature passed several bills on to Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk on Saturday, including measures tweaking the governor’s powers during the coronavirus pandemic and limiting abortions.

The rare weekend session capped off the first week of this year’s General Assembly, where Republican leaders rushed bills through the lawmaking process, waiving several rules that normally allow the public to review and comment.

Meanwhile armed protesters gathered outside the state Capitol, waving flags in support of President Donald Trump, and decrying Beshear’s restrictions during the pandemic.

In astatement on Twitter, Gov. Andy Beshear criticized the protest.

“Three days after domestic terrorists attacked our U.S. Capitol, there was a militia rally in Frankfort. They brought zip ties. We will not be intimidated. We will not be bullied. America is counting on the real patriots. Those who condemn hate and terror when they see it,” Beshear wrote.

The legislature gave final passage toSenate Bill 1, which would limit Beshear’s emergency orders to 30 days unless the legislature votes to extend them.

The bill would also do away with a provision that allows Beshear and Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams to change the “manner” of an election during a state of emergency—a power that was used to expand mail-in and early voting during the pandemic last year.

Additionally, it would require Beshear to seek approval from Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron when issuing executive orders that suspend any statute during a state of emergency.

Rep. Pamela Stevenson, a Democrat from Louisville, said limiting the governor’s powers would hurt the state during the pandemic.

“You can’t micromanage an emergency by its very nature, it’s fluid, it changes minute by minute, it requires leadership. In my 27 years in the Air Force, I’ve never had a battlefield commander stripped of powers to win the war,” Stevenson said.

The legislature also passedHouse Bill 1, which would allow businesses and schools to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic, as long as they comply with CDC guidelines or the governor’s orders, whichever is less restrictive.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Latonia, said the bill would “begin to provide a degree of certainty to people, to organizations, to society.”

Sen. Karen Berg, a Democrat from Louisville, said the bill will only confuse businesses trying to keep up with changing guidelines.

“People need our guidance, they need us to stand up, they are begging us to keep them safe. And this bill adds confusion,” Berg said.

Two abortion measures passed out of the legislature on Saturday.

House Bill 2 would give Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron power to enforce abortion law and regulate abortion providers. Cameron, who has advocated against abortion rights, has said the bill would “allow our office to act unencumbered and with clear legal authority when an abortion provider breaks the law.”

Currently the Kentucky Health Cabinet, part of Beshear’s administration, has the power to regulate abortion providers, not the attorney general.

Senate Bill 9, the so-called “born alive” bill, would make it a felony for doctors to not perform life-saving care following failed abortion attempts. Beshear vetoed a similar measure last year, saying doctors are already required to provide live-saving care.

Tamara Wieder, state director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, accused Republican lawmakers of using the pandemic to rush through anti-abortion legislation.

“The public health crises we face across the country and here in the commonwealth must be a top priority,” Wieder said. “Opponents of abortion have exploited the pandemic to restrict access to abortion care, which is time-sensitive health care that people need. It is shameful that they are putting their ideology ahead of science at the expense of women and families across Kentucky.”

Gov. Beshear now has the opportunity to sign or veto the bills, or they become law without his signature after 10 days.

If Beshear vetoes any measures, the legislature could easily override him with a simple majority vote in each chamber.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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