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.”
Republicans had long opposed Beshear’s handling of the virus, especially early on in the pandemic when Beshear and officials across the country ordered business closures and required masks to be worn in public.
The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Beshear last year when Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron sued to undermine his emergency powers, saying Kentucky governors have broad authority to unilaterally respond to emergencies.
But this year, the legislature changed the law, giving themselves oversight over the governor’s emergency orders by limiting the duration of his actions to 30 days unless renewed by lawmakers.
Beshear is the only one who can call a special legislative session and set its agenda. On Saturday, Beshear asked lawmakers to consider 10 discrete measures, including renewing the state of emergency and other regulations, providing more flexibility for remote learning at schools and allowing the governor to issue mask mandates.
House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, said there’s an “overwhelming belief” among his party that the governor shouldn’t have that power.
“That should be made on a local level as opposed to a statewide level: to allow local governments to react to situations going on in their particular areas as opposed to being on a one-size fits all statewide basis,” Osborne said.
During the first day of the special session, lawmakers quickly passed House Joint Resolution 1, which renews the state of emergency and some of Beshear’s noncontroversial emergency orders until Jan 15. The resolution is now on Beshear’s desk to sign.
The House Health and Family Services Committee passed House Bill 2, which requires nursing homes to let some family members and caregivers enter nursing homes, creates clinics across the state for the coronavirus treatment Regeneron and calls for more COVID-19 testing and vaccine access.
The Senate Education Committee passed Senate Bill 1, which would dissolve the Kentucky Board of Education’s statewide school mask mandate and give schools slightly more flexibility to use remote learning.
Leaders of the legislature say they want the special session to last no longer than five days. Lawmakers will also consider spending about $70 million in federal coronavirus relief money and creating a $410 million incentive to attract an unnamed company to Hardin County.