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Kentucky’s high court reviews case testing executive powers

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky’s highest court heard clashing views Thursday on the scope of executive powers as it reviewed Republican-backed laws that were meant to limit the Democratic governor’s authority to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nearly hourlong Supreme Court hearing came a day before all coronavirus-related capacity limits on Kentucky businesses are being lifted. But the case tests the balance of power between the state’s executive and legislative branches and will have far-reaching implications for future governors confronted by long-running public emergencies.

The constitutional showdown pits Gov. Andy Beshear against Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who appealed a lower court ruling that had temporarily blocked the new laws.

The case revolves around measures passed this year by the GOP-dominated Legislature to curb the governor’s emergency powers in response to his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Beshear immediately filed a lawsuit after his vetoes of the bills were overridden. The new laws were temporarily blocked by Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd.

Amy Cubbage, Beshear’s general counsel, argued at Thursday’s hearing that the Legislature was “micromanaging the pandemic and giving itself a veto” over his use of emergency powers.

State Solicitor General Chad Meredith, representing Cameron, said it was the Legislature that established those gubernatorial powers in times of emergencies.

“They gave it; they can take it away,” Meredith told the high court.

Republican lawmakers said the challenged measures were meant to put checks on what they viewed as Beshear’s overreach in ordering a series of restrictions to combat the virus’s spread. The governor maintained the steps he took to limit activity during the pandemic have saved lives.

Kentucky has had more than 7,130 virus-related deaths.

One of the contested laws would limit the governor’s executive orders in times of emergency to 30 days unless extended by lawmakers. Under another measure, businesses and schools would have to comply either with COVID-19 guidelines from the governor or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They could follow whichever standard is least restrictive.

Last year, the state Supreme Court upheld the governor’s authority to issue coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and individuals to try to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Both lawyers on Thursday tried to gain an advantage from last year’s ruling. Meredith said the justices indicated that lawmakers had the authority to change the executive powers law.

“The General Assembly did exactly what this court said it could do,” he said.

Cubbage countered that the prior ruling recognized that the state’s response to an emergency is “inherently an executive function.”

Deputy Chief Justice Lisabeth T. Hughes noted the case’s far-reaching ramifications, saying it could apply to a future governor perhaps now in grade school who someday faces a public emergency.

“We’re looking at an apparatus to deal with emergencies that applies now, in the future and that every single governor ever since it’s been in existence has used,” she said.

Cameron, in a statement after the hearing, said the governor challenged the new laws “simply because he did not like them.”

“The General Assembly is a separate, co-equal branch of government, and legislators must be able to make changes to state law and alter the governor’s authority without the threat of lawsuits that have no cause or validity,” Cameron said.

Beshear told reporters his use of emergency powers had spared Kentucky from the extreme hardships other states endured from what he called “our generation’s plague.”

“It would have been irresponsible for a governor not to have the authority to take the actions that were taken here,” he said. “And it’s critical that governors in the future have this power, too.”

The Supreme Court also heard arguments Thursday in a second pandemic-related case.

In that Scott County case, Circuit Judge Brian Privett temporarily blocked applying some pandemic-related restrictions to several restaurants and breweries challenging the governor’s actions. The state Court of Appeals stayed Privett’s temporary injunction.

Much of that case becomes moot Friday when virus-related restrictions are lifted, Cubbage said. But she asked the justices to invalidate the judge’s order because the plaintiffs challenged the governor’s overarching emergency declaration issued at the outset of the public health crisis.

“That emergency declaration needs to stay in place for much of the federal funding that we are getting as well as to enable the continuing vaccine effort,” Cubbage said.

Later in the day, Kentucky Senate President Pro Tem David Givens said the governor should end the pandemic-related state of emergency.

“We cannot continue to operate in a declared emergency and move this state forward the way it should move,” Givens, a Republican, said at a news conference.

Oliver Dunford, an attorney representing the businesses, said the continued state of emergency could lead to renewed restrictions if COVID-19 cases spiked again.

“My clients shouldn’t have to go back to court every time when we’ve already got the relief we asked for and the law clearly precludes him from doing so,” Dunford said.

In West Virginia, 60% of eligible are partially vaccinated

CHARLESTON — West Virginia is about five percentage points away from meeting its goal of at least partially vaccinating 65% of all eligible residents before a mask mandate drops June 20.

“We’ve crossed a milestone. … Now we’re at 60.1% that have received their first shot,” Republican Gov. Jim Justice said at a news conference Thursday.

The state’s coronavirus vaccination drive has remained sluggish despite incentives for young people and a lottery for all. But officials said they have not returned any doses to the federal government. About 268,000 does are currently unused, according to state data.

Demand for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the state has plummeted since a brief national pause on the one-shot vaccine in April. An announcement from the company on Thursday extending the vaccine’s expiration date by six weeks was a relief to officials who expected unused doses to become spoiled soon.

“Now we have another month and a half for use of those,” said James Hoyer, who leads the state’s coronavirus taskforce. Sending the doses to other states or countries is under consideration, he said.

“We particularly continue to order Pfizer doses because of the 12 years and older” eligibility that the vaccine allows, he added.

West Virginia has a vaccine sweepstakes that includes prizes ranging from hunting rifles to $1 million. The first prizes are set to be announced June 20, which also marks West Virginia’s birthday and the end of the mask mandate. The giveaways, which also include Rocky Ridge version Ford F-150 trucks, weekend getaway packages and college scholarships, will conclude Aug. 4.

Justice said the state will begin sending out promised $100 gift cards or bonds for residents aged 16 to 35 who got their vaccine. He said they will begin mailing those out Monday at the latest.

Statewide, 119 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday, for a total of 162,845, and two new deaths, for a total of 2,848.

Total cases per county are: Barbour (1,509), Berkeley (12,768), Boone (2,169), Braxton (998), Brooke (2,241), Cabell (8,841), Calhoun (374), Clay (542), Doddridge (631), Fayette (3,535), Gilmer (875), Grant (1,304), Greenbrier (2,875), Hampshire (1,914), Hancock (2,837), Hardy (1,562), Harrison (6,106), Jackson (2,223), Jefferson (4,766), Kanawha (15,410), Lewis (1,274), Lincoln (1,572), Logan (3,262), Marion (4,614), Marshall (3,530), Mason (2,042), McDowell (1,609), Mercer (5,096), Mineral (2,969), Mingo (2,713), Monongalia (9,375), Monroe (1,194), Morgan (1,222), Nicholas (1,882), Ohio (4,300), Pendleton (723), Pleasants (959), Pocahontas (681), Preston (2,951), Putnam (5,303), Raleigh (7,007), Randolph (2,824), Ritchie (754), Roane (653), Summers (856), Taylor (1,263), Tucker (545), Tyler (738), Upshur (1,950), Wayne (3,179), Webster (541), Wetzel (1,381), Wirt (453), Wood (7,917) and Wyoming (2,033).

Joyce Spencer: Community news for Friday, June 11

FAREWELL: A farewell picnic was held June 2 at Barboursville Park in honor of Chuck Minsker and Jeanette Rowsey for their contributions to Barboursville and the Tri-State. Minsker has written a Herald-Dispatch column about video games for 14 years; produced the children’s news program, Kid’s Mag; and founded the First Stage Theatre Company that produced more than 70 plays and musicals. Rowsey is the author of “The Lost Village of Barboursville;” was technical assistant coordinator of West Virginia System of Care for eight years; and ran for the West Virginia House of Delegates in 2018 and 2020. The couple is moving to Texas to be close to their children. Barboursville Mayor Chris Tatum declared that June 2 would be formally recognized as Jeanette Day in The Village.

CONGRATS: Congratulations to Chloe Smalley, a rising freshman, honor student and multisport athlete at Huntington High School, who was selected as the 2021 Miss Teen West Virginia Cupcake at the pageant June 5 at Valley Park in Hurricane. She will reign over the festival in Hurricane on Aug. 27-28, and all proceeds will benefit the WVU Children’s Hospital, which is a Children’s Miracle Network hospital. Chloe’s proud parents are Jason and RaShawna Smalley, and proud grandparents are Jerry and Rhonda Smalley. This summer Chloe is attending the West Virginia Governor’s STEM Institute. She plans to attend college and major in aerospace engineering.

81ST: Vicki Smith of East Pea Ridge celebrated her 81st birthday June 7 with a Zoom party with 55 family members participating. They were from seven states: South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Florida, Georgia and West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

HOLE-IN-ONE: Congrats to Candy Rollyson, who made her second hole-in-one June 8 at Bellefonte Country Club in Ashland. She aced the 125-yard, hole No. 15 with a nine iron. It was witnessed by her husband, Jeff, and three of the BCC grounds crew.

BIRTHDAYS: Happy birthday this week to Naomi Sparks, Sara Alexander, Ken Morris, Evan Worrell, Sherri Blackwell, Kasen Merritt, Janet Foss, Phyllis Argabrite, Vicki Smith, Jon Hoover, Roger Call, Delora Call, Buddy Beckett, Helen McClure, Rose Wolford, Capri Isabella Roma, Teague Christopher True, Sharon Thompson, Kay Hall, June Beckett, Joan Turner, Sean “Corky” Hammers, Beth “Buffy” Hammers, Tammy King, Coen Lilly, Shannon Lilly, Jackson Thomas, Melissa McDaniels, Jeff Townsend, Drew Wells, Lamont Davis, Rhonda Williams, Cory Maynard, Jesse Logan Hawks, Bethany Taylor, Stephanie Esque, Josh Dibble, Kristen Lyttle, Robert Miller, Danny Gardner and Steve Gold.

SPECIAL WISHES: Special birthday wishes to Dr. Dorothy Hicks, who celebrated her birthday Thursday; to twins Christopher and Brianna Evans, who celebrate their 19th birthdays today; to Michelle Byrd Shafer, whose 54th birthday is today; to Lynwood Adkins, who celebrates his 75th birthday Saturday; and to Reverend Fred and Pat McCarty, who share the same birthday Sunday.

ANNIVERSARIES: Couples celebrating wedding anniversaries this week are Bobby and Colleen Thew, Corey and Molly Watson, Jim and Barbara Ellis, Jim and Ann Thornburg, William and Barbara Hale, Nick and Megan Anuszkiewisz, Rick and Lorri Jones, Jim and Kim Schmidt, Mike and Susan McClung, Jim and Janice Glenn, Steve and Terri Burgh, Steve and Susanne Powell, David and Debbie Adkins, Dennie and Carolyn Stark, Jay and Sarah Dunlap, Russ and Debbie Lingenfelter, Caleb and Jill Morris-Gibson, and Mike and Marlene Sheets, who celebrate their 37th anniversary June 15.

Send items for this column to Joyce Spencer, 817 Main St., Barboursville, WV 25504, or fax 304-736-4522. Her email address is jcspencer@msn.com.

W.Va. woman pleads guilty in Lawrence County drug case

IRONTON — A Morgantown, West Virginia, woman pleaded guilty in a drug case Wednesday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court and faces more than a dozen years in prison.

Ashley R. Sauceda, 27, pleaded guilty to possession of 36.88 grams of a compound containing fentanyl, possession of cocaine and identity fraud. A charge of trafficking in drugs was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Judge Andy Ballard set final sentencing in the case for June 30. Sauceda was allowed to remain free on bond.

Steve Nord, an assistant prosecuting attorney, said Sauceda likely will be sentenced to four to six years in prison.

In an unrelated case, Christopher J. Douglas, 37, of Private Drive 350, South Point, was placed on community control sanctions for four years and was ordered to complete up to a 180-day program at the STAR Community Justice Center in Scioto County.

Douglas earlier pleaded guilty to a lesser burglary charge that carried a maximum 18-month prison sentence. He initially was charged with burglary, a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of eight to 12 years in prison.

Ballard ordered a pre-sentencing investigation in the case, the first time he has asked for one, after Douglas admitted entering an occupied home while high on drugs. While officials noted a change in the defendant in nearly two years after the crime was committed, Ballard said he thought a punishment component was required.

Douglas, who has a prior criminal record, has spent more than eight months in jail while the case was pending. Ballard placed him on community control sanctions for four years and ordered him to do 200 hours of community service.

In other cases:

  • Don E. Pike Jr., 43, of Roberts Drive, South Point, was ordered to complete the program at STAR after he violated terms of his intervention in lieu of conviction in a drug case and was kicked out of two local drug treatment programs.
  • Carlton A. Davis, 50, of the 300 block of Walnut Street, Ironton, pleaded guilty to trafficking in meth. He was placed on community control sanctions for four years and was ordered to complete the program at STAR and do 200 hours of community service.
  • Brittany N. Lyons, 31, of the 900 block of North 5th Street, Ironton, pleaded guilty to complicity to trafficking in meth. She was placed on community control sanctions and was ordered to complete the program at STAR and do 200 hours of community service.
  • Keith J. Johnson, 24, of Mill Creek Road, Wayne, pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated possession of drugs. He was placed on probation, and $2,481 in cash in his possession was forfeited.
  • William R. Dutton, 51, of Guyandotte, pleaded guilty to aggravated possession of drugs. He was placed on community control sanctions for four years.
  • Steven Dale Earl, 34, of County Road 1, Chesapeake, pleaded guilty to possession of drugs. He was placed on intervention in lieu of conviction, requiring him to be drug- and alcohol-free for a year.
  • Jubal S. Ross, 24, of the 1400 block of Jefferson Avenue, Huntington, admitted violating community control sanctions. He was ordered to continue on sanctions and to do 300 hours of community service.
  • Ryan D. Russell, 44, of Kenwood Drive, Russell, Kentucky, pleaded not guilty to failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer and resisting arrest. Bond was set at $10,000.
  • Mark Blankenship Jr., 33, of Columbus, Ohio, pleaded not guilty in a felony case. Bond was set at $5,000.
  • Bradley S. Dunlap, 45, of Owensboro, Kentucky, pleaded not guilty to aggravated trafficking and aggravated possession of 7.43 grams of meth, tampering with evidence, possession of a controlled substance and resisting arrest. He was released on a $20,000 recognizance bond while the case is pending.
  • Michael Crabtree, 29, of Wilgus Street, Proctorville, pleaded not guilty to breaking and entering and possession of criminal tools. He was released on a $5,000 recognizance bond while the case is pending.

Friend prefers telling tall tales over the truth

DEAR ABBY: Twenty years ago, I reconnected with a childhood friend. When we were in high school together, she used to love telling stories, not all of them true. Most were harmless and cast her as the center of an interesting adventure.

After graduation, I headed off to college, she started a job and we lost touch for almost 30 years. We now see each other once or twice a year, but text almost daily.

She recently sent me a photo of a now-closed department store and told me she had worked there right after high school, in its pet department. She went on to say she got the job because she had raised tropical fish and was comfortable caring for the animals. The problem with her story is that it was I who had that job. I worked there throughout my freshman year in college.

Thinking maybe she had taken the job after I left, I asked a few questions. But it quickly became obvious that she had snatched my work experience as her own. I couldn’t think of a kind way to challenge her, so all I texted was “Interesting.” Now I find myself not believing any of her stories. I don’t think she has dementia, but I can’t understand why anyone would co-opt someone else’s history like this. Should I challenge her at this late date or chalk it up to more of her “storytelling”? — STOLEN LIFE IN INDIANA

DEAR STOLEN: For whatever reason, your old chum seems unable to separate fact from fantasy. She may do this because she has low self-esteem. I see nothing positive to be gained by confronting her, but it may be time to ask yourself how much you want to continue a relationship with a compulsive fabulist.

She may do this hoping to impress others, or because she feels her life is so boring that others won’t be interested in her if she tells the truth. It’s sad, really.

DEAR ABBY: My husband of many years died. We were very close and spent a lot of time together. How do I graciously decline visits from people I care about but am not close to? I know they mean well, and I don’t want to cause hurt feelings. I think we may all grieve differently. Even after several months, I’m still not ready to entertain a visitor. I may never be, although I appreciate their thoughts. — CONTINUING TO GRIEVE

DEAR CONTINUING: When you wrote that everyone grieves differently, you nailed it. It’s the truth. For some, the process can take a short time. (Many widows and widowers had time to grieve before they lost their spouses.) For others, it takes longer. Several months is still a relatively short time, but please do not isolate yourself completely. You don’t have to entertain, but being able to vent your feelings to caring friends or in a support group can be healthy and healing.

If you don’t want anyone in your home, consider meeting a close friend or two out in public for a brief visit. Going out, exercising and getting some sunshine each day is healthy and can help to lessen depression. Your husband is irreplaceable, but isolating yourself won’t bring him back. If your inability to move forward persists, I urge you to discuss it with your physician or your religious adviser if you have one.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.