Pandemic Special Session Begins

The Kentucky General Assembly returned to Frankfort on Monday for a special legislative session to focus on pandemic response policies. Governor Andy Beshear filed his call on Saturday, two weeks after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of lawmakers in a lawsuit over executive powers related to the COVID pandemic.

The House and Senate immediately began to hear plans to extend some emergency orders, address mask mandates, and amend non-traditional instruction (NTI) policies for schools.

Legislators are also considering two issues not connected to the pandemic. One item to discuss is extending the emergency declaration for the City of Carlisle to aid in recovery from July 30 flash flooding. Another issue they’re considering is whether to provide the Cabinet for Economic Development flexibility for projects over $2 billion.

The House Standing Committee on State Government met shortly after the House convened. Speaker David Osborne (R-Prospect) testified regarding House Joint Resolution 1, which continues all or parts of many existing pandemic executive orders until January 15, 2022, including the ability for local governments to meet remotely. Additionally, the resolution allows digital signature authorization for some transactions and extends the length allowed for pharmaceutical prescriptions.

House Joint Resolution 1 also includes an extension of an emergency declaration for the City of Carlisle.

Representative Jennifer Decker (R-Waddy) asked Osborne if Governor Beshear could still file executive orders once legislators passed HJR 1. “The governor still has the authority to issue executive orders regarding a number of things, so we’re not eliminating that ability completely,” he answered. “Anything that has been issued under the same emergency that would be substantially similar would not be permitted.”

Both chambers voted to waive the constitutionally required three readings of the legislation, allowing them to adopt the resolution in only one day. The House voted 92-3 to pass the measure, and the Senate approved HJR 1 32-4. The resolution now heads to the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 1 also progressed on the first day of the extraordinary session. The Senate Education Committee passed the bill that would end the Kentucky Board of Education’s mask mandate for schools and allow local school districts to determine whether to put the requirement in place. SB 1 also gives districts the ability to limit the scope of quarantine requirements. The goal is to prevent district-wide closures with allowances for schools to focus NTI and distance learning to impacted classes.

The House Health and Family Services Committee passed House Bill 2, which focuses on health care requirements. The bill offers options for staffing help at medical centers suffering shortages and allowances for local control over new COVID-19 treatments.

Lawmakers return for day two on Wednesday.