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Pandemic Bills Advancing Quickly During Coronavirus Special Session

Ryan Van Velzer

Last update: 3:30, Sept. 9, 2021

The Republican-led legislature is in the third day of a special session called by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to try and deal with the escalating coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers are in the process of passing a handful of coronavirus-related measures and an economic development package designed to lure major investors to the state.

Legislators are also poised to consider a controversial resolution that would require the state to recognize a positive COVID antibody test as the same as a COVID vaccination, even though people who naturally recover from the virus are more than twice as likely to contract it again compared to people who get vaccinated.

Beshear called the special session after the legislature passed several laws limiting the governor’s emergency powers. The state Supreme Court ordered those laws into effect after they were initially blocked.

The governor is the only one with the power to call the legislature into a special session and set its agenda. In his proclamation calling the session, Beshear included 10 items in his agenda, including several coronavirus-related issues and a request for lawmakers to set aside money for a mysterious economic development effort.

To expedite the legislative process, both the House and Senate are considering identical versions of legislation—enabling them to pass bills in three days instead of the usual five.

Here’s where we are:

House Joint Resolution 1This measure extends many of Beshear’s coronavirus-related orders, including the March 2020 emergency declaration related to the virus. It passed out of the legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday.

House/Senate Bill 1This bill would nullify the statewide school mask mandate issued by the Kentucky Board of Education last month. It also provides a little more flexibility to schools dealing with coronavirus outbreaks during the pandemic, creating 20 days where districts can designate individuals, classes, grades or entire schools can go into remote learning. There is some controversy as to whether undoing the mask mandate falls within the scope of Beshear’s agenda for the session.

House/Senate Bill 2: This bill directs the state to create more monoclonal antibody treatment centers, testing and vaccine capacity, and requires nursing homes and long-term care facilities to allow at least one family member or designated caregiver to visit residents. It also bans the state from instituting a statewide mask mandate until 2023.

House/ Senate Bill 3: This bill sets aside $69.2 million for Beshear’s administration to respond to the pandemic. Though the bill gives the state Health Cabinet leeway in how it uses the money, it prioritizes using the funds to set up monoclonal treatment centers, “test and stay” programs at schools that allow students and staff to avoid quarantine if they test negative for the virus.

House/ Senate Bill 5: This bill takes $410 million out of the state’s rainy day fund to attract companies that plan to invest at least $2 billion in the state using incentives. Supporters of the bill won’t confirm what companies are interested in taking advantage of the incentive, or where they plan to build.

The measure specifically mentions a vacant site in Hardin County that the state acquired in 2002 in a failed attempt to attract a Hyundai car plant to Kentucky. Hyundai ended up building a factory in Alabama.

Senate Joint Resolution 3: This measure would say that people who test positive for COVID antibodies will count as being fully vaccinated, according to the state. Specifically, the resolution states that “the Commonwealth of Kentucky will recognize a positive COVID-19 antibody test as the equivalent to having been vaccinated against COVID-19.” Proposed by GOP Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, a physician, the bill contradicts the CDC’s conclusion that people who naturally recover from COVID aren’t as protected as people who get vaccinated.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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