Beshear, Lawmakers Discussing Possible Coronavirus Special Session

Aug 26, 2021

Credit J. Tyler Franklin

Gov. Andy Beshear is considering calling a special legislative session after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of new laws limiting his emergency powers last weekend.

A lower court had blocked those laws from going into effect earlier this year, including a measure restricting Beshear’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature.

But once Franklin Circuit Court lifts its block on the new laws, most of Beshear’s orders will expire, including the official state of emergency declared by the governor in March 2020. It’s unclear when Franklin Circuit will do that, but a hearing on the case is scheduled for Thursday morning.

That has Beshear and some lawmakers worried Kentucky will lose millions of dollars in federal funding and other resources tied to the emergency declaration.

Beshear said Monday he’s considering calling lawmakers to Frankfort to vote on reinstating the state of emergency and other coronavirus-related measures.

“At this point, we would need a special session because the state of emergency would expire without one,” Beshear said.

Special legislative sessions are politically tricky—partly because the governor is the only person allowed to call them. Generally, governors try to reach a consensus with lawmakers before calling them in to officially consider legislation.

(There are notable exceptions to this—former Gov. Matt Bevin called lawmakers to consider pension reform legislation during a special session in late 2018, but they quickly adjourned without passing anything because Bevin hadn’t gauged support.)

This week, Kentucky has reached record-high levels for the number of people hospitalized, in the ICU and hooked up to ventilators due to the coronavirus. The state has also reported its highest positivity rates over the last week and the overall number of coronavirus cases and deaths are reaching levels not seen since the peak of the pandemic last winter.

The state Supreme Court ruling means the power to respond to the pandemic will largely reside with Republican state lawmakers, who haven’t signaled how they think state government should respond to the pandemic.

Many of Kentucky Republicans’ pandemic-related proposals have been efforts to limit Beshear’s powers and block safety regulations imposed by state government or private businesses.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Senate President Robert Stivers said lawmakers have been talking to the governor’s office about potential points of compromise for a special session.

Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said “there may be some reasons” to keep the emergency declaration in place, including preserving federal funds.

“And if there are needs like that, we will be inquiring of the governor. And that’s why we want to be coordinated on this and we want to reach out, because we don’t want to do something that will imperil federal funds,” Stivers said.

Stivers said it’s unlikely Republican lawmakers would support a statewide mask mandate, which Beshear hinted at imposing last week, but might support more “targeted” policies.

“Depending on the facts and circumstances, who makes the local decision…you know, we’re open. I’m open,” Stivers said.

Stivers said Republican lawmakers, who control nearly three-quarters of seats in both legislative chambers, generally won’t support “mandates” of vaccines or masking. He outlined his own proposal for encouraging vaccinations—an ad campaign and prizes like free pizza bread in his home district, which includes Clay County.