‘I lost:’ Beshear rescinds school mask mandate after Supreme Court rules against him

The school mask mandate was rescinded in Kentucky, but public school students must still mask up.
Governor Andy Beshear
Governor Andy Beshear(Governor Andy Beshear)
Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 5:26 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WXIX) - Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday rescinded an executive order in effect since Aug. 10 that mandated masks in Kentucky schools.

A separate Kentucky Board of Education mask mandate issued around the same time as Beshear’s executive order remains in effect for public school students only.

The move comes as Kentucky hospitals are nearly overrun with COVID patients.

It also follows Saturday’s opinion from the Kentucky Supreme Court regarding laws, notably Senate Bill 1, passed by the General Assembly limiting what the governor can do independently to declare or act during a state of emergency.

The Court found in a narrowly tailored opinion that the laws were valid exercises of the General Assembly’s legislative powers.

Afterward, the case was remanded back to the Franklin County Circuit Court to dissolve an injunction against those laws and to consider underlying constitutional questions which the Supreme Court did not address.

Now, for example, even if Beshear wanted to impose a statewide mask mandate, something he said Monday could become “absolutely necessary” in the near future, he wouldn’t be able to do so unilaterally.

He would first need to call the General Assembly in a special session, and the General Assembly would then need to pass both a new state of emergency as well as any orders, such as a mask mandate, that might emanate from it.

The governor voiced concern about how states of emergency will be handled from here on.

“I believe that centralized management of emergencies is critically important,” he said. “[...] I also think it’s harder on a bigger body to make difficult, controversial decisions if it’s the right thing to do.”

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The KBE mask order was issued under separate statutory authority and is not impacted by the ruling.

The Supreme Court opinion came with significant vagaries. For example, it remains unclear when the injunction will be lifted and when exactly the current state of emergency will expire.

Moreover, though Beshear said he believed it was his legal duty to rescind the executive order, it isn’t clear he was legally compelled to do so at this time.

Rescinding it now may nevertheless have prefigured a willingness to work with the General Assembly in a special session on a new emergency declaration.

It’s a notion Beshear affirmed on Monday when he said early talks with Republican leaders are “constructive” and that there is some agreement on the basic things needed to fight COVID-19.

Those things might include measures enacted under the state of emergency that will expire at the same time: more flexibility in refilling prescriptions; workers compensation for frontline workers; expanded SNAP benefits; and allowing doctors from other states to practice in Kentucky.

“I believe a state of emergency needs to continue for a slew of noncontroversial reasons,” Beshear said. “My hope is that at the very least we could do a special session.”

Beshear called the task of responding to the pandemic, which now falls with the General Assembly, a “heavy” responsibility.

“But what I’ve seen in the last couple of days is it’s being taken seriously,” he said. “I hope good decisions are made, and I will do my part to effectively carry out what we’re given the authority to do.”

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