In closing frenzy of activity, Kentucky lawmakers shield businesses, limit public records

Published 9:18 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Kentucky lawmakers voted to shield businesses and health care facilities from coronavirus-related lawsuits as they hurried to finish work Tuesday before ending this year’s session.

Another measure winning final passage in the Republican-dominated legislature’s closing frenzy would limit public access to some records of judges, police and prosecutors. A media organization said it would urge Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to veto the bill. Lawmakers would not have a chance to overturn a veto of that bill or any other measure passed in the hectic final two days of the session.

Beshear’s office said the governor and his team would review the final version of each bill that comes to them and decide what’s in the best interest of Kentuckians.

It was a day to put finishing touches on some high-profile measures that had lingered. Lawmakers sent to Beshear a bill imposing a partial ban on no-knock warrants, more than a year after the death of Breonna Taylor during a police raid on the Black woman’s home in Louisville.

The measure would only allow no-knock warrants to be issued if there was “clear and convincing evidence” that the “crime alleged is a crime that would qualify a person, if convicted, as a violent offender.” Warrants also would have to be executed between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Lawmakers also finished work on the long-simmering liability protection measure.

After spending weeks in limbo, that legislation resurfaced to clear the House on a 70-27 vote. The Senate later voted 24-14 to send the bill to Beshear.

The COVID-related bill aims to offer liability protections for businesses looking to recover from the pandemic without creating blanket immunity from civil liability, Republican Rep. C. Ed Massey said. Those protections wouldn’t apply if businesses engaged in practices deemed as grossly negligent or as willful or intentional misconduct, he said.

“We have really tried to thread the needle … to give an adequate amount of protection while not giving them blanket immunity,” Massey said.

The bill’s critics portrayed the liability shield as an overreach interfering with constitutional protections on access to the courts.

“I trust our juries and I trust our judges to weed out frivolous claims and to protect those who need protecting,” said Democratic Rep. Angie Hatton said.

Meanwhile, a bill that would limit access to some open records of judges, police and prosecutors won final passage from the Senate. The House had amended the bill to include family members and prevent access to information such as property tax records, vehicle registration or home addresses.

Media and open government advocates opposed the measure.

David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, said “we have no choice now but to petition Governor Beshear to veto the legislation and we hope that is the result.”