LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On Wednesday, Governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order renewing the state’s mask mandate requiring Kentuckians to wear masks in public for 30 days. Under Kentucky law, the governor has broad powers during states of emergency, such as issuing executive orders, and Beshear has exercised this power often during the pandemic. However, that power could be revised in 2021.
Two pre-filed bills, BR 66 and BR 130, by Republican lawmakers, aim to put limits on the governor’s executive orders made during a state of emergency by having the General Assembly be part of the conversation.
BR 66 wants the governor's emergency orders to expire after 28 days unless approved by the General Assembly.
Republican Representative Savannah Maddox (R-61) co-sponsored the other bill request that proposes for executive orders to expire after 14 days unless approved by the Kentucky legislature.
In an emailed statement, Maddox wrote in part, “Citizens across the commonwealth are increasingly frustrated by the economic repercussions of unilateral decision-making on behalf of the executive branch, as well as the restrictions they have been subject to with no legislative recourse.”
Kentucky’s House Majority Speaker David Osborne (R-Oldham) told Spectrum News 1 in an emailed statement that they are considering better defining the emergency powers granted to Kentucky governors during a state of emergency during the 2021 legislative session.
In part, he wrote, “Governors must have the ability to act quickly to address a crisis, but these powers were granted by previous legislatures with the intent to help our state deal with short-term, mostly regional issues like tornadoes and ice storms. Until now it was inconceivable that any governor would use the powers granted in KRS Chapter 39A to unilaterally lead our state for more than nine months. This pandemic is a very real concern and we must find a way to move forward safely. However, it cannot be used as an excuse to flout the constitution or the will of the people we represent.”
Democrat House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins (D-Jefferson) said her gut reaction says these bills were filed as political statements rather than for change. However, she anticipates this issue will be brought up in the 2021 session.
“We want the governor to be able to act quickly when it is appropriate, and I think he has done that. But, you know, I’m open to the discussion. I’m open to seeing someone else’s point of view on this, but, at the end of the day, I know that I will and pretty much that my caucus are going to be voting to keep Kentuckians safe,” Jenkins said.
If such a bill is passed, the governor could veto it, but in Kentucky the legislature only needs a simple majority vote in both chambers, which the Republicans have, to override the governor’s veto for a bill to become a law.
“If part of their bill is there’s a time limit on executive orders, and maybe there needs to be one, but, you know, I think we have to be very careful about that because we don’t want to have to continuously bring 138 members of the General Assembly into a session that could be quite a hefty bill on the taxpayers to have that done….we have to be realistic about what works in the real world,” Jenkins told Spectrum News 1.
In response, Maddox emailed, ”Members of the General Assembly are tasked with providing a voice for the citizens of the commonwealth, and Kentuckians have made it clear that they do not want their voice to remain unheard during an extended state of emergency.”
Currently, only the governor can call the General Assembly into a special session outside of its regular legislative session. There have been over 100 bills pre-filed for next year’s legislative session, which starts on January 5, 2021, and lasts for 30 days.