Judge temporarily blocks new Kentucky law on COVID-19 rules

Published 8:33 am Thursday, February 4, 2021

Kentucky’s governor won a quick court order Wednesday to temporarily block a new law that he argues would dangerously weaken the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hours after an initial court hearing, a judge issued a restraining order to halt one of the three new laws being challenged by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said the law could create “chaos” and undermine measures intended to combat the deadly disease. He ordered that the law be delayed until he hears more arguments in the case.

Shepherd’s ruling adds a new wrinkle to Beshear’s showdown with Republican lawmakers over the extent of his executive powers to order coronavirus-related restrictions. GOP legislators argue that the governor overreached with restrictions on businesses and individuals.

Responding to the judge’s order, the governor said it will keep in place the “difficult but necessary steps” taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Kentucky.

“I don’t use emergency powers because I want to,” Beshear said in a statement Wednesday night. “I use them because it is my duty to preserve the lives of Kentuckians.”

Senate President Robert Stivers said Republican lawmakers want to review the judge’s order to “better understand” his rationale. Stivers welcomed the judge’s lack of immediate action on the other two GOP-backed laws, saying: “It is apparent from the court’s ruling that the majority of the actions of the General Assembly were within the law.”

In his order, Shepherd said the governor had demonstrated that his “constitutional duty” to adopt emergency measures to curb the virus’s spread would be impaired if the one new law took effect immediately. Earlier Wednesday, Beshear’s attorney said the measure threatened to immediately undo many of the governor’s orders to combat the virus, including his mask mandate.

In his order, Shepherd said he was concerned that law “could create chaos and undermine any effective enforcement of public health standards to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.”
That law would allow businesses and schools to comply either with COVID guidelines from Beshear or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — whichever standard is least restrictive.