GOP lawmakers to focus on budget, governor’s emergency power

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Legislative Republicans who expanded their supermajorities in last month’s election were given a mandate by Kentucky voters to put limits on the Democratic governor’s executive powers in times of emergency, a leading GOP lawmaker said Wednesday.

Senate Republican leaders outlined the main issues awaiting them when the General Assembly convenes in January for a 30-day session. Passing another state budget tops the agenda, but a debate about limiting the scope of a governor’s emergency powers will be a priority, too.

Kentucky’s response to the coronavirus threat “pointed out holes” in state laws and the constitution, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said. Last month’s election — when Republicans expanded their lopsided majorities in the House and Senate — was a “cry for help” from Kentuckians responding to some of Gov. Andy Beshear’s virus-related actions, he said.

“I think Kentuckians sent a message on Election Day that they want Republicans to lead and lead with authority and to lead quickly to limit executive branch powers in the time that we’re in,” Thayer said. “And they are very upset with a lot of decisions made by Gov. Beshear and they want to trim the sails, so to speak, of the executive branch. Not just of this one but all governors in the future.”

The push to rein in the governor’s authority represents something of a turnabout from the position Republican lawmakers generally took with Beshear’s predecessor, GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, when they largely stood by as he wielded his gubernatorial powers. But Bevin didn’t confront a crisis on the scale of the global pandemic during his one term in office.

As Kentucky was hit by waves of COVID-19 surges, Beshear ordered restrictions on economic activity and public gatherings and halted in-class school instruction to try to contain the virus’s spread. The governor says his actions have saved thousands of lives.

GOP lawmakers will consider legislation that includes giving them a place at “the table to discuss when a state of emergency should be extended and for how long it should be extended,” Thayer said. They have criticized the governor for not consulting them on virus-related actions.

Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley responded that it’s “unfortunate” the governor is being attacked while he’s “focused on defeating COVID-19 and saving lives.”

“The next session should be about providing relief to individuals and businesses and investing in ways that create jobs and additional opportunities for Kentuckians,” Staley said. “This session can set Kentucky up to be a leader as we emerge from this pandemic. The Senate majority will have to choose whether it wants to partner with the governor … or simply fight him.”

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