Kentucky Ends All Statewide Mask Mandates After Governor’s Vetoes Overridden

By Jack Brammer and Alex Acquisto, Lexington Herald-Leader — September 10, 2021 4 min read
In this Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, file photo, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addresses the media in Frankfort, Ky. Kentucky's governor said Sunday, Oct. 11, that he will quarantine after a member of his security detail who drove with his family the day before later tested positive for COVID-19. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said he and his family feel fine, show no coronavirus symptoms and have tested negative for the virus.
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The Republican-led Kentucky General Assembly soundly rejected Gov. Andy Beshear’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic late Thursday night, overriding his vetoes of two bills that stripped the Democratic governor’s ability to issue statewide mask mandates in schools or anywhere else.

The action came as lawmakers ended a special session of the General Assembly just before midnight. The session, called by the governor to comply with a Kentucky Supreme Court decision last month that said the legislature must approve the governor’s emergency orders, began Tuesday.

Both the Senate and House late Thursday overrode Beshear’s vetoes of Senate Bills 1 and 2, which he had issued shortly after the bills were initially approved by lawmakers. Senate Bill 1 would nullify emergency regulations mandating masks at public schools and daycare centers, leaving that decision to local officials and business owners. Senate Bill 2 bans any type of statewide mask mandate until June 2023.

Beshear has said he needs that authority to fight the coronavirus, which has claimed the lives of more than 7,800 Kentuckians and is leaving hospitals severely strapped for staff and resources.

The Senate overrode SB 1 on a 21-6 vote and SB 2 on a vote of 23-5.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey urged his colleagues to sustain the governor’s veto of SB 1, saying the governor needs the power to protect unvaccinated children during a worldwide health crisis. Sen. Reggie Thomas, D- Lexington, agreed and said the federal Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics support universal masking in schools.

The House then overrode the veto of SB 1 in a 69-24 vote. The bill carried an emergency clause, which means it became law immediately. Under the law, the Kentucky Board of Education’s mask mandate will be voided in five working days, giving school districts a limited amount of time to decide if they will impose their own mask requirements.

There was no debate in the Senate on the veto of SB 2 veto before it was handed to the House, where members overrode the governor’s veto of SB 2 in a 69-22 vote.

Earlier in the day, the House on a 69-24 vote gave final approval to Senate Bill 2, which officially nullified administrative regulations that the state previously relied on to enforce a mask mandate across Kentucky.

School Mask Mandates at a Glance

  • As of Dec. 10, four states have bans in effect that prevent school districts from setting universal mask mandates, according to an Education Week analysis. Five additional states have such bans, but they have been blocked, suspended, or are not being enforced. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia require masks be worn in schools.


    1. Florida

    On Sept. 22, Florida's surgeon general instituted a rule that gives parents and legal guardians "sole discretion" over masking in schools. On Nov. 5, a judge sided with the state health department in a legal challenge to rule. On Nov. 18 Gov. DeSantis signed a bill that allows parents to sue school districts that require masks.

    2. Oklahoma

    On Sept. 1, an Oklahoma judge temporarily blocked the state law banning school mask mandates, but students or their parents can still opt out of school mask mandates if they choose.

    3. Texas

    On Dec. 1, an appeals court halted a federal judge’s order that had stopped Texas from enforcing its ban on mask mandates in schools, allowing the prohibition to remain in effect.

    4. Utah

    In Utah, local health departments can issue 30-day school mask mandates with approval from the state or county government, according to the state’s top education official.


    1. Arizona

    On Sept. 27, a judge in Arizona blocked the state laws banning mask mandates that were set to take effect on Sept. 29. On Nov. 2, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

    2. Arkansas

    An Arkansas judge ruled on Dec. 29, that a law signed by the governor in April that prohibited local officials, including school boards, from setting mask mandates was unconstitutional. School districts have been able to set their own mask requirements since August when the judge put the law on hold.

    3. Iowa

    On Sept. 13, a federal judge ordered Iowa to halt enforcement of its law banning mask mandates in schools. The order was later extended. The case is now awaiting a ruling from a federal appeals court.

    4. South Carolina

    On Sept. 28, a federal judge suspended South Carolina from enforcing the rule that banned school districts from requiring masks for students.

    5. Tennessee


    1. California
    2. Connecticut
    3. Delaware
    4. District of Columbia
    5. Hawaii
    6. Illinois
    7. Louisiana

    According to a State of Emergency proclamation issued Nov. 23, and most recently extended on Jan. 19, students are required to wear masks in schools, but districts can opt out of the mandate if they adopt an isolation and quarantine policy consistent with the state's department of health protocols.

    8. Maryland

    On Jan. 5, the mask mandate was extended for 180 days, but newly allowed school districts to opt out if at least 80% of the county or 80% of their students and staff have been fully vaccinated.

    9. Massachusetts

    On Jan. 10, Massachusetts extended the state's mask requirement through Feb. 28. On Sept. 27, Massachusetts said schools can apply for a waiver from the face covering rules if 80% of their students and staff have been vaccinated. If a school reaches the 80% threshold, unvaccinated students and employees are still required to wear masks.

    10. Nevada
    11. New Jersey

    On Dec. 7, a judge ruled New Jersey's school mask mandate is "rational" and does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

    12. New Mexico
    13. New York
    14. Oregon
    15. Rhode Island
    16. Virginia

    An executive order from Virginia's new governor that is set to take effect on Jan. 24 rescinds the state's current school mask mandate and instead allows parents to opt their child out of any mask mandate at their school.

    17. Washington
  • Note: In Missouri, the state attorney general has threatened to sue school districts that require masks, citing a November ruling by a county judge that said local health orders tied to COVID-19 are illegal. (The ruling is being interpreted differently by different districts.) The state’s treasurer announced he was also cracking down on schools with mask mandates.
    Updated 01/20/2022| Sources: Local media reports | Learn more here

That same bill also requires the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to work with local health care providers to set up regional monoclonal antibody treatment centers across Kentucky. This form of therapy is often administered to people at risk of severe coronavirus infection who test positive as a way of staving off a severe infection that would require them to be hospitalized.

SB 2 also codifies that residents in long-term care facilities be allowed one “essential compassionate care visitor,” who can visit them in person even if facilities limit visitation as community spread worsens across Kentucky.

It also outlines a media strategy to publicize the voices of community leaders on the dangers of the virus and the importance of the vaccine. That’s a subsection of the bill Senate President Robert Stivers said was drafted, in part, because Beshear and Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack have “desensitized” Kentuckians on these issues by updating them so often on coronavirus.

It also allows certified paramedics to work in hospitals and prohibits bans on some nursing home visitors.

Another major bill the House gave final approval on an 84-8 vote and sent to Beshear for his consideration was House Bill 3, which would earmark more than $69 million in funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to address the pandemic.

It allows the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services to increase COVID-19 testing and help providers with monoclonal antibody treatments.

The House also gave final approval to Senate Bill 5, which would spend more than $410 million in incentives to try to attract economic development projects with investments of more than $2 billion. The vote was 91-2.

Beshear called for the special session on Saturday, in keeping with a recent Kentucky Supreme Court decision that said the legislature must approve emergency orders that Beshear had, up until last month, been issuing on his own.

Since the pandemic began, Republicans have been at odds with the Democratic governor over emergency orders he has enacted to mitigate spread of the virus, including issuing a statewide mask mandate that was in effect for almost a year.

“All we ever wanted in this process was [for Beshear to say], ‘Hey, we need to work together and get through this,” said Rep. Stephen Rudy, R- Paducah. “Governor, include the policy-making branch in your decisions, and he refused to do so.”

Late Thursday night, Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R- Winchester, urged the governor to amend the agenda for the special session to allow lawmakers to provide $81 million in federal funds to help lure and keep frontline health workers.

He expressed concern that some nursing homes will have to close due to President Biden’s directive Thursday that mandates vaccines for more than 100 million Americans.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R- Paducah, chimed in with Alvarado’s plea, looking into the camera and telling Beshear the Senate doors were open and he could come in and amend the call.

Sen. Karen Berg, D- Louisville, said Republicans were being “disingenuous.” She said she begged lawmakers in the summer of 2020 to help frontline workers and she was not heard.

Her remarks upset Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R- Georgetown. He said Berg should take a lesson in decorum.

Copyright (c) 2021, Lexington Herald-Leader. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.


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