FRANKFORT, Ky. — It’s not really a question of if Kentucky lawmakers will hold a COVID-19 special session in Frankfort, but when.

What You Need To Know

  • Lawmakers are discussing potential COVID-19 legislation ahead of a special session

  • The Kentucky Supreme Court allowed limits on the governor’s emergency power to take effect, meaning legislative action is now required to keep the state of emergency intact

  • An announcement on a special session is expected soon, according to lawmakers and Gov. Andy Beshear

  • Republican leaders of the interim education committee say they want to keep kids in school as much as possible

The Kentucky Supreme Court effectively ruled that Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency power is limited following new laws passed by the legislature this year, so now lawmakers are discussing their next steps with COVID-19.

“We are collaborating with the governor and his staff, [legislative] leadership, committee chairs, bill sponsors,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) said. “And we are working toward a special session that I believe the governor is likely to call very soon.”

Much of the discussion during a joint meeting of the interim committees on state and local government Wednesday focused on the court victory for GOP lawmakers.

“The governor was arguing that he alone got to declare when an emergency existed, he alone got to determine how we respond to that emergency, and that he alone got to determine how long his declared emergency existed,” Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) said. “The Kentucky Supreme Court said no.”

Under Senate Bill 1, the governor can only declare a state of emergency for 30 days without seeking an extension from the general assembly. The bill, along with others meant to limit the governor’s power, passed with only Republican support and survived Beshear’s veto.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Beshear still has his constitutional right to call lawmakers into special session if he wants the state of emergency to continue. 

“It sounds like he is intending to do that based on some comments that were made in [the committee meeting],” Cameron said. “I hope he will because that’s when the collaboration process will begin in earnest.”

This week, Beshear said he’s close to making a decision on a special session before the state of emergency expires around Sept. 12. One area he and lawmakers plan to focus on is schools and how they’re dealing with COVID.

Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville), who co-chairs the interim education committee, said his goal is to keep students in the classroom.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to be truly able to eradicate and eliminate [COVID-19], but we can manage the threat that we’re currently under,” he said.

Jim Flynn with the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents told lawmakers that districts need more flexibility in a number of areas, like how school funding is calculated and how staff is hired.

“Any CEO, regardless of work sector, wants to have all the tools in their tool box to be able to respond to whatever they need to to help their organization operate to the best of its ability in the safest manner possible,” he said.

Under another law passed by lawmakers and signed by Beshear earlier this year, school districts are only allotted ten days of non-traditional instruction, or NTI, to use for virtual learning if districts close due to COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Sen. Gerald Neal (D-Louisville) wants to see that tweaked so schools have more flexibility.

“We’re in a space right now we didn’t think we’d be in, lets say five months ago, and we don’t know where we’re going to be five months from now,” Neal said.

But Wise says he’s reluctant to pursue changes to the NTI rules.

“I think if we look to go to a model of unlimited NTI, I would be very afraid of abuse that could possibly come from that,” he said.

Data provided by the Kentucky School Boards Association says 13% of the state's school districts have paused in-person learning at some point this year.

Lawmakers also discussed the impact COVID-19 has on correctional facilities in Kentucky. Committee members heard from the Kentucky Jailers Association and the Kentucky Department of Corrections, each of whom highlighted staffing, funding and logistical issues worsened by the pandemic.

After hosting major outbreaks when the pandemic began, corrections officials said over 83% of the state's prison population is vaccinated. 

Gov. Andy Beshear is holding a Team Kentucky update on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. EDT where he'll provide updates on the COVID-19 pandemic in Kentucky.