FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's top agriculture official on Monday accused the governor of circumventing state law by failing to gather public input for several executive orders issued amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles filed a lawsuit in Scott County Circuit Court in Georgetown. It asks a judge to invalidate orders issued by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear putting a 50-person limit on gatherings.
The suit also was filed by Evans Orchard and Cider Mill. The agritourism business contends that the crowd limit will prevent it from hosting weddings and other events and profitably operating its sprawling outdoor play area. The business requires customers and employees to wear masks, doubled down on sanitizing and reduced capacity to allow social distancing.
In response to the suit, Beshear's office expressed confidence in the legality of the guidance and warned that court orders invalidating them would put more people at risk.
The lawsuit could have much bigger implications in claiming the governor skirted state law by imposing the orders without a public comment process.
The result has been “regulatory mayhem” that caused confusion and unequal application of virus-related restrictions, Quarles said at a press conference Monday. Without public input, state lawmakers and the general public have wrongly been “sidelined” from the process, he said.
The suit comes as shutdown orders have been lifted or eased considerably as the state's economy reopens. It also comes as COVID-19 cases surge in some other states.
Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley said the health rules that the plaintiffs want stricken are keeping Kentuckians safe. She said all businesses have to follow the same rules and expressed confidence in their legality.
“If the parties here won and the virus spread because the facility was not following proper guidance, it could threaten the reopening of our economy and public schools," Staley said.
In the multiple phases of reopening the state's economy, Beshear has reached out to business and industry groups and other interest groups seeking their recommendations. Their input was used in issuing the guidance approved by public health officials in his administration.
Amid rising virus cases around the country, Quarles said he’s concerned that Kentucky’s reopening could be halted or rolled back. If that happens, the public needs to have a voice in the rule-making process, he said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, even death.