Legislators gathered for meetings at the Capitol Annex on Wednesday as they prepared for a potential special session to focus on managing COVID-19. The Legislative Research Commission (LRC) announced several specially called meetings shortly after Governor Andy Beshear said a special legislative session was likely.
The Interim Joint Committee on Local Government met jointly with the Interim Joint Committee on State Government to hear testimony from Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
“We are collaborating with the governor and his staff, leadership, committee chairs, and bill sponsors. We are working towards a special session that I believe the governor is likely to call very soon,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown).
Thayer’s comment during a question-and-answer session with Cameron gave credence to the timeliness of the meetings.
Cameron described last month’s Kentucky Supreme Court ruling regarding Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 2, House Bill 1, and House Joint Resolution 77, which the General Assembly passed in 2021. “I think the robust way in which our state supreme court made the point that you all hold the keys in terms of statutory authority and the ability to change the emergency powers is really important,” Cameron testified. “And I think it is something that should empower you all as you consider your role in how we continue to fight this virus.”
The high court’s decision means Beshear’s executive orders expire by September 13, requiring a special session of the General Assembly if new pandemic-related policies are needed before the 2022 session begins on January 4.
“I’m hopeful the governor and General Assembly can find consensus on what is needed to protect Kentuckians moving forward,” Cameron added.
Local control, quarantine-related staff shortages, and funding were the top focuses of the Interim Joint Committee on Education. Cochair Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) outlined what he hopes the panel would accomplish as they await the special session.
“How can we look to manage this?” he asked. “I don’t think we are ever going to be able to eradicate and eliminate, but we can manage the threat that we are currently under, and we need to do that with common sense, in a safe manner.”
Committee members heard how quarantine issues created worker shortages in the classroom and transportation. Kentucky Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Jim Flynn testified that some communities with public transit systems have looked to bring commercial driver license (CDL) holders in to help with bus routes because the process to hire, test, and train new drivers takes time. He also described how teachers cover multiple classrooms and provide distance learning due to children on quarantine and substitute teacher shortages.
“Schools are doing the best they can, but just know that our teachers are really having to roll up their sleeves and put in extra time to do those kinds of things under the current circumstances,” Flynn noted. “If we could get some flexibilities and avenues to get more people in to help us, that would improve that situation.”
Members discussed an interest in flexibility for non-traditional Instruction (NTI) and distance learning options, emphasizing local control. Several people voiced concern about absenteeism due to quarantines, which impacts district funding.
Mask mandates will also likely be a hot topic when legislators convene for a special session. The governor is the only person who can call a special session, and he sets the parameters. Beshear said he intends to call one to address pandemic issues once legislators reach a consensus on a plan.