By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s Democratic governor vetoed Republican-backed bills Tuesday meant to restrict his emergency powers, saying the measures would hamper the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Defending vetoes that could be swept aside by the GOP-dominated legislature, Gov. Andy Beshear said Kentucky has fared better than other states in the region because of his virus-related restrictions. He warned: “Let’s not backtrack” as preparations are made to ramp up vaccinations.
“We’ve done a better job of keeping our people alive,” he said.
The legislature completed fast-track work earlier this month on the measures to rein in the governor’s executive powers. Passage of the bills dominated the early part of this year’s session. GOP lawmakers have the numbers to override any vetoes when they resume their session next month.
Kentucky has reported more than 330,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 3,200 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
The governor’s five vetoes Tuesday also included an abortion-related measure that would give the state’s anti-abortion attorney general new power to regulate abortion clinics.
While defending his vetoes of measures dealing with his executive authority, the governor signaled Tuesday he’s willing to discuss possible compromises with legislative leaders. Beshear said he’ll send a letter to them in the next day or so to try to kickstart discussions.
“We’re going to see if there is common ground that doesn’t violate the constitution,” Beshear said. “That gives the flexibility we need for what appears to be a mutating virus. And we’re certainly going to do our part … about different options we think are going to be there.”
House Speaker David Osborne later called the vetoes disappointing, saying Kentuckians look to the state to “safely navigate this virus without inconsistent shutdowns and arbitrary orders.” The House is ready to override the vetoes if necessary, he said.
As for Beshear’s offer to work on compromise language, Osborne took a wait-and-see approach after what he called “10 months of unilateral decision-making” by the governor.
The governor said the vetoed bills related to his COVID actions amount to unconstitutional encroachments upon the executive authority given him to respond to emergencies. His comments could foreshadow legal battles over the measures if the legislature overrides the vetoes.
Kentucky’s Supreme Court last year upheld the governor’s authority to issue his emergency restrictions on businesses and individuals to try to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Republican lawmakers accuse Beshear of overreaching with his restrictions on businesses, schools and individuals, claiming the orders were arbitrary and uneven in application. They have criticized him for not consulting with them before taking his actions.
One of the vetoed measures, Republicans have said, would instill greater certainty to keep businesses and schools open as the battle against the virus continues. Businesses and schools would have to comply either with COVID-19 guidelines from the governor or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They could follow whichever standard is least restrictive.
Beshear predicted the bill would improperly delegate rulemaking authority to a federal agency. He also said the multitude of CDC guidelines would cause greater confusion for Kentucky businesses.
Another vetoed bill would limit the governor’s executive orders in times of emergency to 30 days unless extended by lawmakers. It would apply to orders that place restrictions on in-person meetings of schools, businesses and religious gatherings or impose mandatory quarantine or isolation requirements.
Beshear said such limitations could result in more special legislative sessions to consider extending executive orders. The governor noted that a special session costs about $65,000 a day.
That bill also would prevent the governor and secretary of state from changing how elections are conducted during times of emergency. Beshear teamed with GOP Secretary of State Michael Adams to allow unprecedented access to early and mail-in voting last year in response to the pandemic.
Two other vetoed bills also would seek to limit a governor’s authority. One would would give legislative committees more oversight and control over emergency administrative regulations imposed by the governor. The other would strip the governor’s ability to temporarily reorganize executive branch cabinets, boards, agencies and commissions.
The abortion-related bill that drew a veto would give Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron the power to seek civil and criminal penalties for any violation of Kentucky’s abortion laws.
In recent years, Kentucky lawmakers have moved aggressively to impose restrictions and conditions on abortion since Republicans assumed total control of the legislature.