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Lawmakers Override Governor's Vetoes, Beshear Files Suit

Governor Andy Beshear filed a lawsuit Tuesday following the override of his vetoes of legislation approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Beshear, a Democrat, filed the lawsuit to stop what he characterized as lawmakers "stripping the governor of his ability to implement lifesaving public health measures during a pandemic that has killed more than 3,700 Kentuckians at a time when the country is experiencing the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and vaccine supplies remain limited."

Republican lawmakers overrode Beshear's veto of House Bills 1, 2, 3 and 5, and Senate Bills 1 and 2.

HB1 allows businesses, schools, churches, and nonprofits to remain open as long as they meet federal guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) related to COVID-19, or the state's executive branch's guidelines, whichever is least restrictive.

SB1 limits a governor's executive orders in a state of emergency to thirty days unless extended by the General Assembly. The attorney general's permission would also be required to suspend a state statute under an emergency.

It also impacts the ability of the governor and secretary of state to change the way elections are conducted in an emergency like they did in the primary and general elections in 2020, greatly expanding mail-in voting, and changing the date of the primary due to the pandemic.

SB2 gives more oversight and control over emergency administrative regulations imposed by the governor.

(Legislation synopses reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal.)

Beshear's lawsuit asks that those three pieces of legislation be enjoined in his lawsuit.

HB2 is related to the independent regulation of abortion clinics by Attorney General Daniel Cameron, also a Republican, while HB3 restricts circuit judges in Franklin County and their ability to hear litigation against state agencies. In that legislation, the county in which a lawsuit is filed is where the cases are to be heard.

HB 5 restricts the governor from temporarily reorganizing state boards and and changing the make-up of their members.

Late last year, the Kentucky Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, decided that the governor's actions on COVID-19 restrictions were legal and necessary. Beshear filed Tuesday's lawsuit in Franklin Co.

“Today, the General Assembly attempted to surrender to COVID-19 and accept the casualties. As your Governor, I cannot let this happen,” Gov. Beshear said. “I have filed this action to continue to fight for the protection of all Kentuckians.”

In a news release, Beshear said that Kentucky has fared better than other states with fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths. Adjusted for population, Kentucky has lost less than two-thirds the number of lives to COVID-19 as Tennessee, a state that refuses to impose a mask mandate, a news release said. Kentucky has lost less than half the lives lost in North or South Dakota, states that refused to enact any mitigation measures until they recorded the highest mortality rates in the world, the governor's office said.

“The lesson is clear: When a governor takes action, his or her state experiences fewer deaths,” Beshear said. “When a governor does not, the results are tragic.”

Beshear said that "without the ability to continue to implement lifesaving measures, chaos would ensue, as Kentuckians would have to read nearly 175 different guidance documents on the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In a Jan. 11, 2021, letter, the CDC said its guidance should not be used in this way."

The Governor said, "now is not the time to surrender to the virus."

Prior to the General Assembly overriding three of the governor’s vetoes, Beshear said that he sent a letter to Speaker of the House David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers seeking to meet and discuss a compromise.

Stivers and Osborne, who have complained the governor has not communicated with them, responded in a letter the day before overriding the veto. They indicated they had received the governor’s letter 12 days earlier but insisted the timing of the legislative session “will make such discussions a challenge” and that “given our time constraints we are compelled to proceed with the veto override votes this week.”

They wrote that, after legislators vetoed the bills, they would be “happy to sit down with you as soon as schedules allow.”

The state Democratic and Republican parties also responded to the overriding of Beshear's vetoes.

“Today, Republicans in Frankfort continued to put their own petty grievances ahead of the needs of hard working Kentuckians," said Marisa McNee, spokesperson for the state Democratic Party. "Governor Beshear’s actions have saved lives. He has continuously stepped up to help Kentuckians through the pandemic. Governor Beshear made an effort to work with the Republican majority in good faith, but they clearly do not seek solutions or good governance. They only seek power and control at the expense of everybody else. They misled the public for months about their true intentions, but their refusal to work with Governor Beshear is a clear signal to all Kentuckians that they cannot be trusted to do the right thing.”

“We applaud our Republican supermajorities for taking these actions," Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Mac Brown said. "Time and time again, the governor refuses to work with lawmakers and constitutional officers, instead issuing unilateral orders and overreaching executive authority. Our Republican legislative supermajorities’ action today will help more Kentucky schools, small businesses and working families get back on track.”

-Staff report

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