Special Session Ends

Three days after the General Assembly convened for a special legislative session, legislators adjourned sine die after passing four bills and a joint resolution. Governor Andy Beshear called legislators to the Capitol to focus on pandemic policy issues, extend an emergency order for flood-ravaged Nicholas County, and create flexibility for a potential $2 billion investment.

It usually takes five days for a bill to become law, but lawmakers voted to waive typically required readings to expedite the process.

Thursday marked the third, longest, and final day of the special session, with the last votes cast just after 11:30 p.m. EDT. The final votes overrode gubernatorial vetoes of Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 2. Those looking to override the governor’s line-item vetoes argued they were unconstitutional because the bills were not appropriations bills.

Hours of debate surrounded Senate Bill 1, which removed school mask mandates put in place by the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE), gave local control for district mask policies, and offered flexibility for nontraditional instruction (NTI) for dealing with COVID-19.

Several school districts posted statements immediately following the bill’s passage that stated their district mask mandates remain in effect. Sponsors of Senate Bill 1 testified that the legislation gave local school officials five days from passage to decide whether to require facial coverings in schools.

Senate Bill 1 mirrored the language of House Bill 1, which stumbled through committee on Wednesday before members passed it. The Senate passed the plan 26-10, and the House voted 70-25 to send the bill to Governor Beshear.

A ban on statewide mask mandates headed to Beshear’s desk when Senate Bill 2 passed the House  69-24. The legislation focused on medical policies surrounding pandemic response and divided lawmakers about whether it went too far or not far enough. Senate Bill 2 attempts to increase COVID-19 testing, create regional clinics to administer monoclonal antibodies, and help medical facilities struggling with worker shortages.

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 3, which sailed through the House 80-7. The legislation, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester), redirects $69 million of Kentucky’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to critical health care needs.

Lawmakers failed to pass House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 4, which would have removed lawmaker pay during a legislative veto period of extraordinary sessions.

Legislators easily passed Senate Bill 5, which gives the Cabinet for Economic Development flexibility to land up to $2 billion in new investments.

Legislators passed House Joint Resolution 1 on the first day of the session and extended many current emergency orders until January 15, 2022, when the General Assembly returns for the 2022 session.

HJR 1 included two provisions important to cities, an extension of COVID liability protections and the ability for cities to conduct meetings virtually. It also extended the emergency declaration for Nicholas County and the City of Carlisle, which continue to recover from flash flooding.

Friday afternoon, Governor Andy Beshear addressed the special session during a news conference at the Capitol. He expressed disappointment with the General Assembly’s veto override of Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 2 and efforts to ban statewide and school mask mandates.

Beshear said, “The legislature owns this pandemic moving forward. If I still had the authority, we’d be masking indoors. It works. We’d reduce cases. We’d provide relief to our hospitals.  We’d save lives. The inability to take this step, and all of its ramifications or even its’ devastation, falls squarely on the legislature.”

He cited the extended state of emergency for workers’ comp, prescription refills, and the economic development bill as positive items coming out of the special session.