FRANKFORT – In the case styled Beshear v. Acree, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a sweeping and unanimous decision that Governor Andy Beshear’s emergency actions to address the COVID-19 pandemic are legal.
The court said they were not only constitutionally sound but “was, and continues to be, necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of all Kentucky citizens.”
The case was presented by Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who represented a group of business owners. They argued Gov. Beshear did not follow the necessary administrative procedures when instituting the orders, and exceeded executive authority.
Unlike other states, Kentucky’s General Assembly is a part-time legislature comprised of citizens. Our state constitution, enacted in its current form in 1891, allows legislators to convene and pass laws from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January, until midnight on April 15. In times of crisis when the legislature is not in session, the General Assembly, like other states, grants unilateral authority to the Governor, which allows them to declare a state of emergency and enact emergency orders through the Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) Section 39A.
Gov. Beshear declared a state of emergency to address the pandemic in March of this year. Kentuckians have become familiar with the orders, which include: the mask mandate; limits on gatherings; and gave schools flexibility to conduct non-traditional instruction. Attorney General Cameron attacked the Governor’s actions from several angles, from the orders lacking a rational basis, to the emergency powers statute. KRS 39A has been invoked over a hundred times by both Democrat and Republican administrations alike, and not deemed violative of the Kentucky Constitution.
Throughout the Kentucky Supreme Court’s 103-page opinion, they consistently agreed that the executive branch is charged with power per the Kentucky Constitution and delegation of authority by the Kentucky Legislature. Invalidating KRS 39A, would lift all COVID-19 restrictions during a sharp escalation in the pandemic, force children back into school, hamper first responders’ ability to acquire necessary PPE, and handcuff the Governor from effectively responding to floods, tornados, earthquakes, and more. KRS 39A does not intend to give carte blanche to the executive branch. The Governor remains accountable to the citizens of Kentucky, and the General Assembly may address the state of emergency and the emergency powers when it gavels into session this January. An emergency requires decisive action and a clear direction.
As the 2020 general election winds down, it is safe to say our right to vote is one of the most powerful tools afforded to American citizens. A heavy price was paid for the freedoms we are granted today. On this past Veterans Day, I hope you were able to set aside some time to celebrate and honor all of our veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. There have been many who served and sacrificed since before the American Revolution and continue to do so today. For this, we are grateful. For this, we will forever be indebted. Regardless of the day, always remember those who have committed themselves to our country and protected our freedoms.
I encourage you to stay engaged and share your input as we rapidly approach the 2021 Regular Session. As always, I will do my best to keep you updated and informed about what is happening in Frankfort. If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, I remain accessible by email at Robin.Webb@LRC.KY.GOV. You can also leave a message for me on the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. Citizens with hearing impairments can use the can use the Kentucky Relay Service at 711.