The Kentucky General Assembly has passed a bill to prevent a statewide mask mandate until June 2023, and shifting the responsibility for such mandates to local governments and businesses.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear quickly line-item-vetoed the bill, and the Republican controlled legislature over-rode the veto about as quickly.
Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, also directs the state to create more monoclonal-antibody treatment centers, used for early treatment of COVID-19 under a federal emergency-use authorization; allows paramedics to work in hospitals and nursing homes; and allows families of nursing-home patients to name an “essential caregiver” who would have the right to visit the patient.
It also tells the the state health cabinet to partner with universities and health-care organizations to produce public-service announcements about the severe effects of COVID-19 and “talk with their doctor about the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination;” and to implement a plan to improve access to COVID-19 vaccinations in doctor’s offices. It also calls on the state health department to assist and support the distribution of COVID-19 tests.
The bill also includes an eleventh-hour addition allowing Kentuckians to have a conscientious objection to getting a COVID-19 vaccination if local health departments require them.
The Senate passed the measure on a vote of 26-10 and the House passed it 69-24.
During the Senate debate, Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, called the elimination of the mask mandate “irresponsible.”
Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, called the measure an “embarrassment” and said she viewed the lack of willingness to tell constituents that a mask mandate is needed to keep schools open as “cowardice.”
In quick response, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, walked through several of the Democratic governor’s responses to the pandemic that he said resulted in poor outcomes, and noted that the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously agreed to remove some of the governor’s emergency powers during the pandemic (by upholding laws the Republican-controlled legislature passed).
“If you want to sit here and talk about unmitigated failure, where we are today – there has been no decisions by this body, or that body down there,” meaning the House. “Only the decisions made on the first floor that were wrong,” Stivers said.
House Democrats were quick to point out that Republicans were doing the same thing to them that House Majority Leader Steven Rudy said the governor had done in refusing to work with them on pandemic related policies.
“The same things that are being complained about with the first floor — that’s happening to the minority party,” said Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington. “We are not being heard. And if we would work together, we would have had an opportunity to talk about our amendments, had them voted upon. We would have something that we could say, yes, we’re working together. But we’re not doing that. We’re obviously not doing that.”
Wheatley said the bill’s ban on a statewide mask mandate through June 1, 2023, is “highly, highly political.” That date falls soon after the next primary elections for governor, in which Beshear says he is running.