Why is Kentucky closed when other states reopen?

Published 9:51 pm Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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State Representative

As states across our nation announce plans to shed pandemic-related requirements, I have received a number of phone calls, emails, and messages from folks who want to know why Kentucky has not. Some folks even ask why the legislation we passed to require our state to reopen has not taken effect. Sadly, the answer is pretty simple — the governor is suing to prevent it.

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It is no surprise that the governor dislikes the bills because he vetoed them in January. However, it is frustrating that he would refuse to accept the will of the people even after those vetoes were overwhelmingly overridden by the legislature in February.

Instead of faithfully enforcing the laws, he chose to tie the measures up in court. The Kentucky Supreme Court will wait until June 10 — two months after it accepted the case and four months after the suits were filed — to hear the governor’s lawsuit and another filed by Kentucky businesses that challenges his unprecedented exercise of power.

So, as neighboring states and places like California and New York dial back their requirements, Kentuckians wait as all eyes are on the seven elected members of the Kentucky Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the governor last fall, but we used that ruling to guide the development of these bills to ensure what we passed could withstand a court challenge. I sincerely hope they remember their job is to interpret the laws and whose job it is to make few laws — and rule in favor of our constitution and therefore the will of the people who elect them.

The Supreme Court will consider HB 1, legislation that provides direction to help businesses, schools, nonprofits, and other organizations remain safely open throughout the rest of this pandemic. We also made permanent changes to how our state approaches emergencies. We limited executive orders issued during a state of emergency to 30 days unless extended by the legislature and required the attorney general’s permission to suspend a statute during a state of emergency (SB 1). In addition, we passed SB 2 to prevent the executive branch — including unelected appointees — from using the regulatory process to make laws.

Both SB 1 and SB 2 provide the ability to respond quickly to an emergency while preventing a governor from overstepping his or her authority. Whether or not you agree with how the current governor handled this pandemic, our Kentucky Constitution grants each branch of government separate, limited powers. The legislative branch enacts laws and crafts a budget, the executive branch implements the laws, and the judicial branch interprets them. Our government works best when no branch overreaches into another’s area.

Before I conclude, I want to share some good news. One of the top three credit rating agencies announced last week that Kentucky’s financial outlook would change from a “negative” rating to a “stable” rating. Credit ratings are important because they measure our state’s financial well-being, but also because they are used to determine how much it costs us to borrow money for major projects that require financing. I know this sounds a lot like how our individual credit scores play into how much we pay to buy a house or car. The announcement from Fitch Ratings is a sign that the conservative policies we passed this session — particularly the budget and our investment of federal COVID-relief funds — are right for our commonwealth. Frankly, this upgrade is also a clear sign that government works best when it uses its authority appropriately.

Of course, our work is far from done. While stable is good news, we still have to navigate a dangerous economy as too many of our friends and neighbors remain unemployed while others struggle to keep their businesses open, and we see rising costs in everything from food to lumber and building products. We must be realistic and act carefully in the weeks and months to come.

Thanks for taking the time to read this week’s update. I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181 or by email at Matt.Lockett@lrc.ky.gov. If you would like more information about any of these bills or legislative actions, you can also visit the Legislative Research Commission website at legislature.ky.gov.