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.
Nine states have banned school districts from setting universal mask mandates. Those bans are in effect in six states. In the remaining three states, mask mandate bans have been blocked, suspended, or are not being enforced. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia require masks be worn in schools.
MASK MANDATE BAN IN EFFECT
- South Carolina
MASK MANDATE BAN BLOCKED, SUSPENDED, OR NOT BEING ENFORCED
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
*On Sept. 22, Florida‘s newly-appointed surgeon general instituted a rule that gives parents and legal guardians “sole discretion” over masking in schools.
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 the requirement if they choose.
Tennessee‘s governor has signed an executive order requiring schools to allow families to opt out of mask mandates.
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.
An Arizona judge ruled the state law banning mask mandates will not go into effect until Sept. 29.
In Arkansas, a judge paused the state law that prohibits local officials from setting mask mandates, meaning school districts can—at least for now—set their own local mask requirements.
On Sept. 13, a federal district court ordered Iowa to immediately halt enforcement of its law banning mask mandates in schools.
Updated guidance released by the Texas Education Agency on Sept. 17 states that per the governor’s executive order, school systems “cannot require students or staff to wear a mask.”
Updated 9/22/2021 | 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.
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