Special Session

Stephanie Wolf

When Gov. Andy Beshear called a special legislative session on COVID-19, he clearly outlined goals to fight the pandemic in Kentucky. 

Some of those items passed, including an extension of the state of emergency. But as predicted, masking was a point of contention — and in the end, the Republican-led legislature passed a bill reversing the Kentucky Department of Education’s mask mandate.

“The legislature owns this pandemic moving forward,” Beshear said at a Friday press conference, during which he relayed his frustration with state lawmakers.

Senate Bill 1 places the onus on individual school districts and their superintendents to decide whether masks are required in classrooms.

J. Tyler Franklin

The Republican-led legislature wrapped up the special session called by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday night.

Shortly before midnight, lawmakers overrode two line-item vetoes Beshear issued of SB 1, which nullifies the school statewide mask mandate, and SB 2, which blocks the governor from creating other statewide mask requirements.

Beshear also signed two measures–SB 3 setting aside $69.2 million in federal coronavirus relief money to fight the pandemic and SB 5, which takes $410 million out of the rainy day fund to incentivize major companies to invest in the state.

Beshear called the special session after the legislature passed several laws limiting the governor’s emergency powers earlier this year. The state Supreme Court ordered those laws into effect after they were initially blocked.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky state lawmakers have passed a GOP bill that ends the statewide mask mandates for public schools and child care centers. 

Public health experts, including the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, say universal masking should be required in K-12 settings to curb the spread of COVID-19. But Republicans are siding with some conservatives who say mask mandates infringe on their First Amendment rights. Senate education committee chair Max Wise, a Republican from Campbellsville, said the bill gives decisions on masking to local school districts.

“They make that decision of what they think is best for their constituents and their communities,” Wise said.

A WFPL survey found nearly two-thirds of Kentucky school districts planned to keep masks optional before statewide mandates went into effect.

Democrats in both chambers balked at Republicans’ assertions they were protecting local control.

J. Tyler Franklin

State lawmakers working in a special session on a pandemic relief bill for public schools are struggling to build consensus on how much flexibility districts should have in moving to remote learning. 

Republican leaders in both chambers have moved bills through committees that give districts 20 remote learning days, in addition to the 10 non-traditional instruction days they already have. The bills would also end the statewide mask mandate for schools and childcare centers, create a “test-to-stay” strategy and make it easier to hire substitute teachers.

Under the provision, districts could use 20 days to send a school, a group of students or a class into remote instruction—but not the entire district. 

Democrats, and some Republicans, worry 20 days won’t be enough.

J. Tyler Franklin

During a special legislative session called by Gov. Andy Beshear, Kentucky lawmakers have advanced a bill to use more than $69 million in federal coronavirus relief money to respond to the pandemic.

Republican-led committees in the state House and Senate passed identical bills that give Beshear’s administration the authority to spend the funds to help schools, hospitals and nursing homes weather COVID-19.

Rep. Jason Petrie, a Republican from Elkton, said the administration will have the ability to decide how much and what to spend the funds on.

“There is wide discretion given to the administration of being able to nimbly adapt the funds where the need is,” Petrie said.

Kevin Willis | WKYU

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman says adults have talked a lot about how the pandemic has impacted the mental health of K-12 students.

What’s too often missing, she adds, is the voices of the students themselves.

As part of an effort to reverse that trend, Coleman was in Bowling Green Wednesday for the first in a series of in-person and virtual meetings with students across the state designed to give young people the opportunity to express how they’re struggling under the weight of the uncertainty, anxiety, and stress related to COVID-19.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk over the last couple of years about mental health and how it’s affecting students. But we haven’t heard from students. It’s been an adult’s interpretation, or assumption, of how students feel, and why they feel that way, and how to help them,” Coleman told WKU Public Radio.


Stephanie Wolf

Kentucky lawmakers extended the state of emergency related to the coronavirus and several other emergency orders issued by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear during the first day of a special legislative session to deal with the pandemic.

They also advanced bills that would ban lockdowns at nursing homes and get rid of the statewide school mask mandate.

Beshear called the special session after the Republican-led legislature passed several measures limiting his emergency powers earlier this year. The state Supreme Court recently ordered those laws into effect after they had initially been blocked.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said the legislature had taken control of the state’s emergency response.

“For 18 months, the governor said he and only he had the authority, either by constitution or statute, and I think he was proven to be very wrong,” Stivers said. “There’s only one group that makes the law.”

Ryland Barton

A Republican-led committee of state senators gave the greenlight Tuesday to a bill that would end statewide mask mandates for public schools and childcare centers. 

Supporters of the measure say it should be up to individual school districts and parents whether to send children to school in a mask. Opponents, including Democrats on the Senate Education Committee, point to guidance from health experts that universal masking is needed to curb the rapid spread of the delta variant of COVID-19.

The proposal is part of a larger education-related bill lawmakers are considering during a special legislative session to respond to the pandemic. Gov. Andy Beshear called the session after a state supreme court decision stripped many emergency powers from the Democratic governor and put them in the hands of the Republican-led legislature. 

The proposed legislation, known as Senate Bill 1, would end the Kentucky Department of Public Health’s mask requirement for childcare centers, as well as the Kentucky Department of Education’s mask mandate for K-12 public schools. School districts would have five days from the bill’s effective date to craft their own mask mandates, if they wish.

Stephanie Wolf

Governor Andy Beshear has called the Kentucky General Assembly to a special legislative session focused on COVID-19 measures.

Beshear announced the session late Saturday afternoon and said it will begin Tuesday, Sept. 7 at 10 a.m.

Earlier in the pandemic, Beshear used his executive powers to mandate masks and limit business capacity, but now much of that power has been stripped due to a recent decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

“This session will be about COVID, about the general assembly under the Supreme Court’s decision, making a determination on this fight moving forward,” said Beshear.

Beshear said he has been in talks with lawmakers about the special session since the Supreme Court’s decision last month. On Saturday, Beshear shared some of the COVID-19 measures to be considered:

LRC Public Information

Republican lawmakers are gearing up for a possible special legislative session on coronavirus after a court hobbled Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers during the pandemic.

Only Beshear has the power to call lawmakers in for a special session. Both the governor and Republican leaders of the legislature say they are negotiating when to call the session and what policies to propose, including whether to renew the official state of emergency for the pandemic.

During a legislative meeting on Wednesday, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron told lawmakers they “hold the keys” for the state’s emergency response.

“I hope that you all can come to agreement in terms of the governor’s office in terms of how ultimately you will handle additional measures to take in confronting COVID-19,” Cameron said.

LRC Public Information

Kentucky lawmakers are working with Gov. Andy Beshear to come up with a possible agenda for a special legislative session on coronavirus.

Even though Republican lawmakers worked to restrict Beshear’s powers earlier this year, the party’s leaders in the legislature say they want to preserve some public health policies put in place by the Democratic governor, though they aren’t saying which ones yet.

House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, said several legislators are currently reviewing a list of pandemic priorities sent over by the governor.

“We will develop those plans over the next several days. I would expect that as the governor said, when we are ready, he would call us in to take action,” Osborne said.

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.

Flickr/Creative Commons

Kentucky’s health departments have another year to figure out if their workers will stay in the state retirement system or exit, following the passage of Gov. Matt Bevin’s pension bill on Wednesday. But the decision won’t be an easy one, and it may not even be feasible for many health departments to leave the system.

For years county health department workers got a pension — a guaranteed benefit retirement account. Employees hired since 2014 have already been moved into 401k-type plans. And now older workers are at risk of having their pension benefits frozen if the health departments they work for choose to exit the pension system under Bevin’s bill.

J. Tyler Franklin

This week in Kentucky politics, Gov. Matt Bevin signed the so-called pension “relief” bill into law after a short special legislative session. Attorney General Andy Beshear threatened to sue over the session, saying that Bevin had blocked lawmakers from considering other proposals. And Amy McGrath addressed the bumpy launch to her U.S. Senate campaign.

Listen to this week’s show:


J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has signed into law a pension bill aimed at relieving regional universities and community social services agencies from crushing retirement costs.

The signing ceremony on Wednesday came a couple of hours after the bill won final passage in the Senate. Bevin was joined by lawmakers and stakeholder groups at the signing.

The Republican governor called lawmakers into a special session last Friday to take up his pension proposal. The bill — reflecting Bevin's plan — narrowly passed the GOP-led House on Monday and won overwhelming support in the Republican-dominated Senate.

 


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