Judge halts COVID-19 restrictions on Kentucky agritourism

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GEORGETOWN, Ky. (KT) - A state judge Thursday granted a temporary restraining order against Gov. Andy Beshear’s orders restricting agritourism businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Scott Circuit Judge Brian Privett’s order halts the statewide enforcement of Beshear’s executive orders with respect to all 548 of Kentucky’s agritourism businesses registered with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.


The judge’s order came in a lawsuit brought by Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Evans Orchard and Cider Mill in Scott County. Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined them in the lawsuit.


“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 press release.


The judge said in order to issue and enforce executive orders related to COVID-19, the governor must specify the state of emergency that requires the executive order, the location of the emergency, and the name of the local emergency management agency that has determined that the emergency is beyond its capabilities.


Beshear, who called the ruling “reckless” during his daily briefing Thursday, said his administration will immediately ask the Kentucky Court of Appeals to stop the judge’s order. “Those who brought and supported this lawsuit should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.


The governor said with coronavirus cases rising, the judge eliminated all restrictions on 548 businesses including farmers markets, distilleries and the Pike County Expo Center. Beshear said it could cause “rapid spread of COVID-19.”


The lawsuit puts to test the constitutionality and legality of Beshear’s use of executive power during the coronavirus pandemic to restrict the agritourism businesses.


“This ruling is a victory for the rule of law, public health, individual liberty, and small business owners across the commonwealth,” Quarles said in a news release. “The decision provides much needed certainty for businesses across the state as peak agritourism season approaches.”


Quarles said the court order sends a message to the Beshear administration to use Kentucky’s administrative laws and “seek cooperation from the public and the General Assembly in putting public health first.


“Surprisingly, lawyers for the governor admitted in court this week that the administration used the emergency regulatory process to expand telehealth during the pandemic, but they didn’t do that when they closed or began to reopen the economy,” he said.


“With cases rising around us, it is now more important than ever before that the Beshear administration prioritize public health and public input going forward,” he said. “If the Beshear administration believes new measures are needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, they must stop trying to govern via executive order and begin following the emergency regulatory process that allows for public comment and input from the Kentucky General Assembly.”


Evans Orchard and Cider Mill is a fifth-generation family farm-owned agritourism destination in Georgetown, offering an orchard, a 96,000-square foot-playground, and a converted barn facility that serves as an event venue.


It says it instituted new public health guidelines and procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic in compliance with Beshear’s executive orders, including requiring employees to wear masks, sanitation protocols for the facility, and reduced capacity to comply with social distancing.  In one instance,


Evans Orchard was told by the local health department that they could not allow more than 10 individuals at a time into the business’s 96,000 square foot attraction.


“Without this temporary restraining order, the business could not operate its playground and event venue profitably for the remainder of the calendar year,” Quarles said.


Quarles responded to Beshear’s statements from the press conference Thursday afternoon with a press release.


"Contrary to the governor’s performance this afternoon, this lawsuit isn’t about him. It isn’t political. It isn’t personal. It’s about people who have been deprived of their rights to participate in the policy-making process,” he said. "All that I am asking him to do is to issue emergency administrative regulations that take effect immediately - with a public comment period, like the law requires. The governor’s rhetoric makes it sound like he is unaware of this part of the law.”

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