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Beshear Vetoes Five Bills Related to Emergency Powers, Abortion

Governor Andy Beshear announced Tuesday that he had vetoed five bills from the General Assembly that he called unconstitutional.

House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1's vetoes, Beshear said, would allow him to continue to take executive actions during the COVID-19 emergency, and to ensure future governors the same opportunities during future emergencies.

The governor said that his efforts to stop COVID-19 are widely supported by Kentuckians, and according to recent polling, 86% support asking people to stay at home and avoid gathering in groups; 78% support limiting restaurants to carry-out only; and 73% support prohibiting K-12 schools from teaching in-person.

“What this says is no matter what party you’re in, no matter who you voted for for president, the people of Kentucky support the ability to take steps necessary to protect us,” said Beshear.

House Bill 1 would allow organizations like schools, businesses, and churches to stay open as long as they meet the guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the governor's office, depending on which guidelines are the least restrictive.

Beshear said that CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield advised against any bill that writes public health guidance into law.

“I want to make it clear that CDC guidance should not be interpreted as regulation; rather, they are meant as recommendations. It should be used in consideration for specific state and/or local regulations, but this guidance is meant to be flexible and adaptable,” Dr. Redfield said. “It is not meant to be prescriptive or interpreted as standards that can be regulated.”

Senate Bill 1 would limit Beshear's executive orders to thirty days unless an extension is authorized by lawmakers.

Beshear, in calling the bills unconstitutional, said that the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled, “our examination of the Kentucky Constitution causes us to conclude the emergency powers the Governor has exercised are executive in nature, never raising a separation of powers issue in the first instance.”

“This is a way of saying under the Kentucky Constitution, this is the executive branch’s job,” said Beshear. “I certainly hope we wouldn’t think that in the middle of a battle, in the middle of a war, you would have a legislative branch debate and vote on tactics – that’s just not how the Constitution is set up.”

Beshear also vetoed legislation related to his office or that of the secretary of state changing the manner of an election during an emergency, which is what happened in the 2020 primary and general election due to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing for more early or mail-in voting. He vetoed House Bill 5 that would prevent the governor from executing new laws passed by the General Assembly or the United States Congress that require new or different governmental structures to carry out. It would also disqualify the Commonwealth from federal grants that may require a new office or commission,” he said.

Additionally, House Bill 2 was vetoed. It would have taken decisions related to abortion away from an executive cabinet and place them under the direction of the attorney general.

“The Kentucky General Assembly will stop at nothing, even in a deadly pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 people, to restrict abortion access," said Tamarra Wieder, State Director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky (PPAIK). "Make no mistake, the goal is to restrict abortion access through back channels by shifting oversight of abortion providers to an office with no business overseeing health care. Policies that punish pregnant people and providers over basic reproductive health care will not stand with Kentuckians. The majority of the U.S. supports access to safe, legal abortion. Gov. Beshear’s veto of HB 2 upholds the beliefs of the majority of the commonwealth."

The governor said moving forward he would be working with lawmakers on a resolution to the legislation.

-Staff report