Gov. Andy Beshear pulled his most recent mask mandate order for schools and daycares on Monday. However, even in the wake of a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling against his ability to issue emergency orders, he told a Lexington television outlet that a broader mask mandate may be necessary.
In an interview with WKYT , Beshear said he has been willing to make controversial calls, like mandating masks in public, to control the spread of COVID-19. However, the state’s top court, in an unusual Saturday ruling, sided with the General Assembly and said the laws lawmakers passed to limit a governor’s emergency powers should not have been blocked by a circuit court judge.
“Moving forward, what the Supreme court has said is those calls are going to have to be made by the legislature,” Beshear said.
The ruling comes at a time when COVID-19 cases are spiking in the state because of the delta variant and schools across Kentucky have reopened. With districts returning to full-time, in-class instruction, many have reported a rise in students testing positive and even more needing to quarantine as caseloads increase.
With hospitals facing critical shortages, the governor noted a general statewide mask mandate may be necessary to respond to the crisis.
“I’ve been willing to make that tough call in the past,” he added. “That’ll be something along with other issues that now the state legislature will have to confront.”
Lawmakers have not shown an appetite for taking those measures, as many in the Republican-led legislature have criticized the orders. Some even have prefiled bills for the 2022 session that would prohibit such mandates from being possible moving forward.
While he did call for a broader mandate, Beshear also pulled the order he gave on Aug. 10 that required masks in all schools and daycare settings in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. The governor’s move, though, will not have as much significance since the state Board of Education issued a mask order for the state’s public schools and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services announced one for daycares.
Toni Konz Tatman, chief communications officer for the Kentucky Department of Education, told The Center Square Monday that House Bill 1 – one of the laws Beshear challenged – prohibits state agencies or local authorities from infringing on entities, like schools, from staying open and fully operational.
“The KBE regulation requiring face coverings in school facilities does not inhibit the ability of public schools to remain open and fully operational for in-person services,” she said. “Furthermore, both CDC and Kentucky Department for Public Health guidance recommend universal indoor masking for all public schools. As such, any HB 1 plan would have to provide for universal indoor masking consistent with the KBE regulation.”
As a result, the governor’s decision will just affect private schools moving forward.
In Saturday’s ruling, the seven justices ruled unanimously and ordering Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd to end the injunctions he issued against three state laws and a resolution the GOP-led General Assembly passed and enacted over Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto.
Beshear sought the injunctions on HB1, Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 2 and House Joint Resolution 77, saying they infringed upon his ability to issue emergency orders to manage the COVID-19 crisis.
The action lawmakers took limited the duration of emergency orders issued by a governor, the governor’s ability to issue new orders based on the same emergency and allowed schools, businesses and other organizations to implement their COVID-19 safety guidelines as long as they adhered to either state or federal health guidelines.
In a joint statement after the court’s decision, House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Saturday they would be willing to work with the governor in managing the state’s response to the pandemic.
“Let us be clear that today’s ruling in no way diminishes the seriousness of this virus or its impact on our commonwealth, and the General Assembly will continue to work to maintain both the safety and rights of all Kentuckians,” they said. “The General Assembly has made it clear on numerous occasions that its disagreements with Governor Beshear were founded in process.”
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