On September 7th, the General Assembly was called in to a Special Legislative Session in response to a decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court in August, which allowed the legislature to significantly limit a governor’s executive authority to impose emergency health measures during the pandemic, including indoor mask mandates for K-12 schools, preschools and child care facilities.
The House and Senate met for three days, ending their work just before midnight on Thursday. By the time the final gavel fell, the General Assembly had approved five bills and one joint resolution:
House Joint Resolution 1: Extending state of emergency to January 15, 2022
Senate Bill 1: Nullifying mask mandates statewide
Not surprisingly, most of the debate centered on Governor Beshear’s and the Kentucky Department of Education’s ability to require face coverings, especially in schools and daycares. I believe that’s an important tool, especially when the number of positive cases is starting to exceed 5,000 a day.
The legislation takes that statewide authority away, but maintains it locally. All but 6 school districts in Kentucky, including our largest, have already said they plan to keep the masking requirements in place as it is CDC protocol for children ages two and up.
Schools will also be able to opt into test-to-stay programs that will ease the number of students and staff needing to quarantine if exposed. This will help, but it likely will not be available where there are already critical medical shortages. The cost could be prohibitive, too; statewide, expenses could exceed $60 million a week.
School Districts will have more remote-learning days to use and more flexibility in how they are implemented. An attempt to make this fairer for large districts was turned down, however, meaning a system as large as Jefferson County Public Schools – with more than 150 facilities – will still lose a day of remote instruction even if only one classroom in one school needs it.
The legislation also extends many previously issued emergency executive orders, including easing rules so qualified out-of-state medical personnel can work in the commonwealth and public retirees and retired teachers can return to jobs where the need is greatest without sacrificing benefits.
Senate Bill 2: Banning future statewide mask mandates and nursing home visitor prohibitions
Senate Bill 2 declares the statewide facemask mandate void but encourage vaccinations, COVID-19 testing and greater access to monoclonal antibody treatments, such as Regeneron. I attempted to add an amendment that would provide a pause to organizations throughout the Commonwealth who are providing rental funds directly to landlords. This amendment was defeated on procedural grounds, but I will be introducing legislation that would allow for the backlog of over $300 million unused federal dollars to be disbursed as quickly as possible.
Senate Bill 2 also:
- Requires Kentucky’s public universities to develop and initiate public awareness campaigns encouraging people to get vaccinated. One focus will be on developing partnerships with athletes, coaches and health care providers to promote the vaccine’s benefits.
- Assists health care providers, jails, prisons, homeless shelters and local health departments in acquiring COVID-19 tests.
- Makes it easier to administer the vaccine at the offices of primary care physicians.
- Allows paramedics to work in hospitals to relieve a nursing shortage.
- establishes safety protocols for so-called essential compassionate care visitors in long-term care facilities during pandemic-induced lockdowns. They could be a family member, legal guardian or close friend.
Senate Bill 3: Appropriating $69 million of ARPA funds for pandemic
These funds will be redirected to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health & Family Services to help health care providers, schools and others to implement provisions of SB 1 and SB 2. These include the purchase of COVID-19 tests, the establishment of regional monoclonal antibody treatment centers and test-to-stay programs in schools.
Senate Bill 4: No legislator compensation for veto days in special session
Senate Bill 5: Funding to lure Hardin County economic development project
This bill appropriated $410 million of the $1.7 billion surplus towards economic incentives for projects valued at $2 billion or more. I passed on this bill in committee, and was the only one to do so, because I believe that we are stewards of taxpayer money and must have as much information as possible before appropriating funds like this towards economic development projects. Braidy Industries was fresh in most legislators’ minds. Ultimately, I voted for the bill, primarily because of the multiple levels of oversight and reporting built in to the legislation. I will continue to monitor how these funds are being used to ensure that we actually receive the economic development benefits touted with this bill.
There were benefits and shortcomings in all of these bills, and I welcome your thoughts or comments about the special legislative session. My email is Nima.Kulkarni@lrc.ky.gov, while the toll-free message line for all state legislators is 1-800-372-7181.