Marshall Co. Health Board Waiting For State Guidance Before Enforcing Restaurant Closures

Nov 21, 2020

Dr. Joe Ellis chairs a virtual meeting of the Marshall County Board of Health Saturday, November 21.
Credit Screenshot by Dalton York / Marshall County Board of Health

The Marshall County Board of Health is waiting for guidance from the state before enforcing Governor Andy Beshear’s executive order requiring restaurants and bars to halt in-person dining services.

A group of local restaurants recently announced they were considering keeping their doors open in defiance of the mandate. While Beshear said in a press conference Wednesday he would rely on state licensing agencies including the Alcoholic Beverage Control board as well as county governments to enforce the order, the mechanics of enforcement were largely left unaddressed in the section of the executive order pertaining to bars and restaurants.

During a Marshall County Board of Health meeting Saturday, Marshall County Judge/Executive Kevin Neal said the uncertainty means businesses should do their best to comply with state guidance while county leaders wait for more direction from Frankfort.

“The best course of action, and this is just our opinion, is to simply encourage everyone to remain in compliance as best they possibly can,” Neal said. “And then once this guidance is handed down to local agencies, we as a board regroup and decide on what kinds of enforcement policies are deemed necessary.”

Neal said the order adds another level of difficulty to workers already struggling under the weight of the pandemic.

“We have a lot of folks who, their livelihood is on the line. They have employees, if you can just imagine and I know the board understands this, those restaurant owners have several employees; the order comes out on Wednesday and they would have to make drastic decisions on Friday. Some of those decisions would be to lay off employees and shut down their operations because of this order,” Neal said.

Marshall County Attorney Jason Darnall concurred on the difficulty of enforcing Beshear’s order without additional guidance from the state government. However, Darnall noted the Kentucky Supreme Court’s recent unanimous decision upholding Beshear’s authority to issue virus-related executive orders as evidence the new mandate has a reasonable likelihood of withstanding scrutiny by the courts.

“There is nothing in there whatsoever about what penalties might be possible for non-compliance. There’s no direction given for any one agency at all on what action might be expected from Frankfort, from the governor’s office, from the state cabinet,” Darnall said.

Darnall said the mask mandate authorized by Beshear in July was left without enforcement guidelines from state officials for approximately one month after enactment. He said similar rules for enforcement of the new order will be helpful in determining the health department’s response.

Darnall said he and board member Kip Mathis, who’s a private practice attorney, discussed the matter prior to the meeting and still have questions.

“We both questioned whether or not this order, standing naked as it is without any Cabinet regulation accompanying it, actually gives the health department jurisdiction to act at this point.”

Board of Health Chairman Joe Ellis said the issue will be discussed at upcoming meetings as the county awaits state regulatory action on enforcement. Members of the public wishing to provide a comment or ask a question about the Health Department’s response to Beshear’s order may email mchdquestions@gmail.com.