FRANKFORT, Ky. – Top Republican lawmakers are promising to work with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to fight COVID-19 after a court ruling cleared the way for new limits on the Democratic governor's emergency powers.
Beshear's allies said they'll be watching to see if the governor's critics follow through.
Kentucky Republicans cheered the state Supreme Court ruling Saturday. The ruling ordered a lower court to dissolve an injunction that for months had blocked the GOP-backed laws. It comes as the highly contagious delta variant drives up coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Kentucky.
The court's decision “signals it is time for the Republican leadership to publicly put forth their plan to protect the commonwealth from this pandemic and the deadly delta variant,” said Rep. Joni Jenkins and Sen. Morgan McGarvey, the top Democrats in the Kentucky House and Senate.
"We know what they don’t support; show us your plan,” they added.
The top legislative Republicans — House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers — said lawmakers are "ready to work with the governor, as we have for nearly a year and a half, and address what is a very real public health crisis.” The GOP holds supermajorities in both chambers, and Republicans accused Beshear of taking a go-it-alone approach in dealing with the pandemic.
“Let us be clear that today’s ruling in no way diminishes the seriousness of this virus or its impact on our commonwealth, and the General Assembly will continue to work to maintain both the safety and rights of all Kentuckians,” Osborne and Stivers said in their joint statement Saturday.
Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who defended the laws in court, urged Beshear to consult with lawmakers and “find consensus on what is needed to protect Kentuckians.”
“This is not a novel concept; in fact, it’s the bedrock of our system of government,” he said.
Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley said the court's order would dissolve the pandemic-related state of emergency. That would affect actions including measures to fight COVID-19 in long-term care facilities and worker’s compensation for front-line workers who contract the virus, she said.
The next step is to determine whether lawmakers are willing to extend the state of emergency as the governor assesses whether to reconvene them, Staley said.
“If called in to a special session, we hope the General Assembly would do the right thing,” she said.
One of the new laws limits the governor’s executive orders in times of emergency to 30 days unless extended by lawmakers. Under another measure, businesses and schools have to comply either with COVID-19 guidelines from the governor or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They could follow whichever standard is least restrictive.
Beshear imposed capacity limits and other restrictions during much of the pandemic to try to stop the virus's spread. He lifted most of his restrictions in June.
But with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising, Beshear recently signed an executive order imposing an indoor mask mandate in K-12 schools, child care and pre-kindergarten programs across Kentucky. That set off a new round of legal wrangling.
Even the state's deputy chief justice, Lisabeth T. Hughes, pleaded for cooperation. In her concurring opinion Saturday, she warned the COVID-19 scourge continues, creating “seemingly limitless thorny issues.”
“As a justice, and more pertinently as a lifelong Kentuckian, I implore all parties to this matter to lay down their swords and work together cooperatively to finish this immensely important task for the benefit of the people they serve,” she wrote.
The court ruling came one day after former longtime Kentucky lawmaker Brent Yonts died after battling a COVID-19 infection. His obituary said he was fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“His family believes his death was preventable, and it is their prayer that everyone who is eligible get vaccinated to avoid the type of cruel suffering this virus brings,” his obituary said.
Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic