FRANKFORT, Ky.(KT) – State Treasurer Allison Ball took Gov. Andy Beshear to task over what she said was an unconstitutional executive order during the pandemic and other Republican lawmakers hinted that there could be legislation action in the next session.
Ball said Beshear ordering churches not to hold in-person services during the spring was unconstitutional and infringed upon the free exercise of religion and the freedom of assembly. It was all part of a whopping 97-page report she shared during an appearance before the Interim Joint Judiciary Committee.
While the treasurer made the open criticism of the governor’s actions in the pandemic, lawmakers who are miffed at a lack of communication from the Beshear administration seemed to foreshadow changes to come during the next session.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters after the hearing to expect legislative action during the 2021 session..
“We want to know what’s out there, we want to know what’s going on, and we are going to look at various provisions,” Stivers said. “Are there needs for powers? Without a doubt. But what type of limitations can we put on them so people have the ability to have access to the press, access to their church, and access to the freedoms that are guaranteed by both the Kentucky and United States Constitutions.
“I think we will clearly define what can be done.”
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said he was told there would be additional action “with the Governor being held accountable for his actions, whether that would be through the Attorney General’s office, or through some type of impeachment proceedings.”
Some of the points of Ball’s 97-page report included:
--The targeted monitoring of churches by local health departments at the direction of state officials.
--The coordinated surveillance of churches by the Kentucky State Police, which included officers remaining posted outside church services where churchgoers were instructed that they faced the threat of repercussions, including criminal penalties and quarantine orders for their attendance.
--The disdain shown by the Administration for the sincerely held religious beliefs of the Commonwealth’s citizens.
--The enforcement distinctions drawn by the Administration between protests based on the subject matter of those protests.
Ball told the panel, “The fact that a state of emergency was declared, does not change the unconstitutional manner of the actions I have described.”
She said her report, based on information between March and June, was not meant to disparage Kentucky State Police or local health departments.
“They have been heroic in the last seven months,” she said. “They have been on the front lines of this epidemic. They deserve our honor and our respect, and I am grateful for what they have done, and I am thankful for them. They have been put in the untenable position of having to either obey the Governor or follow the Constitution, and that is wrong.”
When asked what were the amounts of expenditures made by the KSP to enforce what were determined to be unconstitutional orders, Ball said, “It would be incredibly difficult to take out someone’s salary and figure out what portion of it was used in an unconstitutional manner. The same with health departments. I’m not sure it is even possible to carve out.”
House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said she had issues with the presentation. “I just think there was a lack or substance in that report. For a Treasurer’s report, there weren’t any numbers. While I think some of these Constitutional issues are clearly very important, I don’t know that’s the Treasurer’s role.”
When asked if this should be the job of the State Auditor instead, Hatton replied, “Well, according to Treasurer Ball, she told the Herald-Leader that this was going to be the Auditor’s job, that it wasn’t the Treasurer’s job.”
Crystal Staley, Gov. Beshear’s communications director, responded to a request for comment from Kentucky Today by issuing this statement:
“With less than two weeks until Election Day, Allison Ball is playing politics while Gov. Beshear is fighting to save lives. Kentuckians know the order relating to religious gatherings was withdrawn in May and the U.S. Supreme Court has since ruled that such actions were legal,” Staley said. As a deacon in his church, the Governor believes the treasurer is wrong to use faith to create fear and stoke division between Kentuckians. As Governor, he has regularly featured religious leaders in his press conferences and often speaks about his strong faith.
“He urges the treasurer to set aside partisan politics and prioritize Kentuckians and their health during this pandemic, which has killed more than 1,300 people in the commonwealth and is currently surging with record cases.”