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KY Judge Strikes Down Beshear's Coronavirus Health Orders For Some Farm Businesses

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles at the Republicans' 2019 Election Party
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles at the Republicans' 2019 Election Party

A Kentucky judge’s ruling Thursday limits Gov. Andy Beshear’s authority to issue emergency orders mandating coronavirus safety measures — a ruling Beshear called “dangerous and devastating” and promptly pledged to appeal. 

Scott Circuit Court Judge Brian Privett issued a temporaryrestraining order preventing Beshear’s administration from enforcing COVID-19 restrictions for the state’s 548 agritourism businesses. 

Evans Orchard and Cider Mill in Georgetown, Kentucky, and Republican Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarleshad sued the administration in June arguing that some executive orders implementing coronavirus-related restrictions violated the state constitution and Kentucky’s Administrative Practices Act, particularly because of a lack of clarity. For example, Orchard Co-Owner Jenny Evans had said their business had major concerns over an order allowing only 10 people in their 96,000-square-foot playground.

Quarles said in a statement that the ruling is a victory for the “rule of law, public health, individual liberty, and small business owners across the Commonwealth. 

“I am hopeful this court order will encourage the Beshear Administration to follow Kentucky’s administrative laws and seek cooperation from the public and the General Assembly in putting public health first,” Quarles said in his statement. 

The ruling also says Beshear’s administration must state the nature of an emergency, the location of an emergency, and the name of the emergency management agency that has determined an emergency before enforcing or issuing an executive order. 

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who intervened in the case, said the ruling shows the Beshear Administration can’t make “broad, arbitrary” executive orders not grounded in state law. 

“This is a clear win for the rule of law and will help Kentucky families and businesses across the Commonwealth who have suffered and continue to suffer financial losses and economic hardship because of the Governor’s executive orders,” Cameron said in a statement.

Beshear responded during an afternoon briefing in which he issued a new mandate requiring masks in public places and pointed to the recent sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Kentucky and around the country.

“For a court to say you don’t have to do anything is irresponsible,” Beshear said, and predicted that he would swiftly prevail in an appeal. “It is absolutely wrong under the law.”

Beshear had sharp criticism for Judge Privett and Attorney General Cameron, saying “a circuit judge thinks he’s an epidemiologist and we don’t need any protections,” and pointing out that Cameron is “the only AG in the country suing a governor” over coronavirus protections.

Beshear said the ruling would not prevent him from preceding with the mask order. 

“I’m just going to do the right thing,” he said. “If they won’t, that’s okay, I’ll do it for them.”

This article was updated to include comments from Gov. Beshear.

Jeff Young is managing editor of the Ohio Valley ReSource, a journalism collaboration led by Louisville Public Media.

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