Republican leaders of the legislature have rejected Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s request to collaborate on a plan to provide bonuses to essential workers during the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Beshear asked GOP and Democratic caucuses in the General Assembly to join a work group to figure out how to use $400 million in federal relief money for a bonus pay initiative.
Democratic lawmakers sent names for the group, but Republicans rejected Beshear’s request in a letter last Friday.
In the joint letter sent to the governor, House Speaker David Osborne and Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said they would take up the issue independently.
“Our existing interim joint committees of jurisdiction are well equipped to evaluate the policy proposals your administration would like to present. We respect the legislative committees’ expertise and public’s input in these matters, and do not see any purpose at this time in circumventing their usual jurisdiction with an additional working group,” Stivers and Osborne wrote.
Lawmakers return for the annual legislative session in January. When they aren’t in session, legislators can’t pass new policies, but still discuss issues in interim committee hearings.
During a news conference Monday, Beshear said he was disappointed.
“It’s certainly something I wish they would have been willing to do,” Beshear said. “We’re going to move forward in working with the parts of the legislature that are willing to work with us in trying to define the categories for it, the amounts for it. We look forward to hearing from the different groups.”
In recent weeks, some Republicans have pushed for Beshear to call a one-day special legislative session to provide bonus pay for health care workers during the pandemic, but the governor said he wouldn’t without a specific plan and funding source.
Health care staff have been especially strained during the pandemic. Groups like the Kentucky Hospital Association and Kentucky Nurses Association say the state is facing a shortage of health care professionals and that bonuses would help attract and retain workers.
Beshear has been pushing to provide bonuses to a broader range of workers in industries like manufacturing, police, firefighters, social workers and grocery store employees. He said he’ll make his case to the legislature during the upcoming session.
“We want to make sure as this pandemic is hopefully coming to a close that we reward you, as one Kentucky, for the amazing things you have done, for the courage you have had,” Beshear said.
Osborne said lawmakers will continue discussing the issue with stakeholders and the governor’s office.
“We look forward to the administration’s input but would advise that any proposals focus on bolstering the workforce, getting Kentuckians back to work, and removing the barriers that stand in the way of our economy moving forward. These federal dollars are still the taxpayer’s money and we will invest them responsibly,” Osborne said.
Beshear already summoned leaders for a three-day session in September to renew some emergency orders and spend about $70 million to respond to the pandemic. Legislators also voted to nullify the statewide school mask mandate.