Sunday, January 10, 2021 : By Nathan Skates
Republicans, who now hold a supermajority in the Kentucky General Assembly, wasted no time pushing back against Democrat Gov. Andy Beshear as they went into the first legislative session of 2021 in early January. Only a few days in, Republicans have already passed a bevy of bills aimed at limiting the governor’s executive powers as well as legislation targeting abortion.
With the opening of the first 2021 legislative session, Kentucky’s GOP-led General Assembly, which added to their majority during the November 2020 elections, has made a clear statement about Gov. Andy Beshear’s use of executive powers by passing bills targeting his authority during emergencies. Republicans also voted to grant the Attorney General more authority to prosecute abortion clinics, a bill Beshear vetoed in 2020, passed a bill that calls abortion an “elective” rather than an “essential” procedure, and passed a “born alive” measure that requires abortion doctors to provide life-saving medical care to a child who survives an abortion.
Gov. Andy Beshear faces the difficult position of being a Democrat governor in a state where Republicans hold a super veto-proof majority in both houses of the General Assembly and hold both the Attorney General and Secretary of State offices. This challenging circumstance did not prevent him from imposing strict COVID-19 restrictions in 2020. Beshear angered Republicans in 2020 by refusing to consult them on restrictions or to call a session to address concerns over his COVID-19 orders.
Republicans have now taken action on their frustration by passing bills that limit Beshear’s authority. HB1 takes aim at Beshear’s COVID-19 orders, which have imposed strict limitations on businesses. Under the House bill, schools and businesses may reopen if they follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Bart Rowland, R, said,
“Since the first executive order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 6 of last year, Kentuckians have been subject to arbitrary and crippling restrictions which have led to unimaginable losses for working Kentuckians, their children’s education and livelihoods. This measure will give the reassurance (to) our businesses, especially retail and restaurant, that there will be no future shutdowns due to COVID-19.”
The bill also allows family visitation for children in foster care and grants residents of nursing homes the ability to have visits from one “essential personal care visitor.” This combats the governor’s previous restrictions on visitations.
Beshear responded by claiming the new bill is unconstitutional. He said,
“To be taking very explicit executive orders that you can read and understand who’s involved and replace it with something nebulous that you got to Google to go out and find, that doesn’t give a lot of protection either for individuals or for the business itself.”
Senate Bill 1 would restrict a governor’s emergency orders to 30 days unless the General Assembly extends the order. Senate Bill 2 allows legislative committees to amend the governor’s emergency administrative regulations or find them deficient. The bill also allows for public comment on the regulations.
Republicans have been critical of Beshear’s COVID-19 response. Republican Rep. Ken Upchurch said, “People want to do the right thing. They want to protect themselves. But they also have to run their businesses and make a living.”
Democrats opposed Republicans’ attempts to limit executive powers. Rep. Derrick Graham called the bills an “overreach.” Other Democrats have been supportive of Beshear’s restrictions, saying that they were necessary and have kept Kentucky from experiencing a greater spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The Republican General Assembly also passed House Bill 2, which expands the Attorney General’s power to seek criminal and civil penalties against abortion clinics who violate the law. The bill also gives the Attorney General the ability to seek injunctive relief and penalties against abortion providers that violate administrative regulations. In addition, the bill labels abortion an “elective” procedure after abortion had been deemed “essential” and allowed to continue during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The bill was vetoed in the 2020 session by Beshear.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron said,
“It is my duty to uphold and enforce Kentucky’s laws, and I appreciate the commitment of House Leadership and Representative Fischer to moving legislation forward that is consistent with this responsibility and will allow us to seek penalties against abortion providers if they violate the law. Abortion providers should not receive special treatment, and this bill will ensure we can take the necessary actions to hold them accountable if the law is broken.”
The Senate also passed Senate Bill 9, which requires doctors to “preserve the life and health of a born-alive infant” during a “failed” abortion. Beshear vetoed the bill in 2020.
The Kentucky General Assembly is taking action against executive overreach by Gov. Beshear and providing a template for other states to follow. One person cannot be allowed to have nearly unlimited authority over citizens’ ability to earn a living, visit loved ones, or educate their children. If freedoms are to be retained, legislatures must stand for the rights of their citizens.
Kentucky is an overwhelmingly pro-life state with a strongly pro-choice governor. The General Assembly voted 75-18 to pass HB 2 and can now easily override the governor’s expected veto on this and other bills.