FRANKFORT, Ky. — Even though most of Kentucky’s coronavirus orders expire Friday, they’re still tied up in the court system, prolonging an emotional debate about health restrictions.

What You Need To Know

  • The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear two cases Thursday involving Gov. Andy Beshear's emergency powers

  • The state's highest court upheld Beshear's COVID-19 orders last year

  • GOP lawmakers passed multiple bills this year limiting the governor's power

  • Beshear says limits on his emergency powers are unconstitutional while Republican leaders say he overstepped his authority with COVID restrictions

“My parents, who are 87 and 90, are here today because of the mandates that were passed,” said House Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins, D-Shively.

Jenkins voted against limits to Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive power during the past legislative session, but the Republican majority passed multiple bills over Democratic objections and Beshear’s vetoes.

The governor sued and now the matter will go to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

“I think these, the rulings that come out…may give us some direction into what we can legally do, what we can constitutionally do and we can have those discussions,” Jenkins said.

The court will hear oral arguments Thursday, just a day before most of Beshear’s COVID-19 restrictions end, including capacity restrictions and the mask mandate.  

University of Kentucky political science professor Michael Zilis said part of the debate now is just symbolic for lawmakers.  

“The other aspect that’s not symbolic but has far-reaching implications beyond the current situation and beyond the current pandemic, frankly, is the separation of powers concerns,” Zilis said.

So will the court side with the governor, who says the limits are unconstitutional, or with Republican lawmakers who say the governor abused his authority?

GOP leaders went after the governor’s power after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in favor of his COVID-19 orders last year, passing House Bill 1, Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 2 and House Joint Resolution 77. Each affects the governor’s power in some way:

  • SB 1 limits emergency orders to 30 days before lawmakers would have to grant an extension
  • SB 2 requires more legislative oversight on emergency regulations
  • HB 1 prevents the governor from enacting stronger restrictions than the CDC recommends;
  • and HJR 77 would effectively end the mask mandate

“This is a different case than we saw in November, right, because the legislature has changed the framework for emergency power authorizations, and typically courts will give due deference or significant amount of deference to laws passed by legislatures," Zilis said.

Following all the legal challenges can be confusing, though. A Franklin Circuit Court judge temporarily halted the new restrictions on Beshear’s power while a Scott Circuit Court judge required Beshear to follow the new laws.

On Tuesday, a Boone Circuit Court judge voided every coronavirus order.

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, praised the judge’s decision in a statement.

“(Tuesday’s) ruling in Boone Circuit Court is further evidence that the legislation we passed in January not only passes the necessary legal tests, but is critical to ensuring our constitutionally guaranteed separation of powers,” Osborne said. “The Kentucky Constitution is specific in ensuring that no branch of state government be empowered to lead our state unilaterally for an extended period of time.”

In a statement of his own, Beshear blasted the decision.

“The ruling ignores the statewide decision made by the Franklin Circuit Court on the governor’s emergency powers,” Beshear said. “This injunction only applies to one business and it does not take effect until mere hours before these COVID-19 restrictions are lifted by Gov. Beshear on Friday, June 11.”

All of these cases will ultimately be taken up by the Kentucky Supreme Court, although Zilis said the court could also decide not to bother because the orders will expire soon anyway.  

“They typically draw fairly clear parameters around things that are live, ongoing issues, and then will pass on things that are not,” Zilis said. “And for some of these questions — not all of them, certainly, but some of them — we’re getting to a point where that type of action at the court level may be in play.”

The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear two cases related to Beshear’s coronavirus orders on Thursday. Goodwood Brewing LLC, the owners of Louisville Taproom, Frankfort Brewpub, and Lexington Brewpub, challenged the validity of Beshear’s orders in Scott Circuit Court. Attorney General Daniel Cameron brought a separate case to Franklin Circuit Court, arguing Beshear has no legal right to sue over the new laws restricting his power.