FRANKFORT, Ky. — As 2021 comes to a close and the 2022 legislative session nears, it's clear there were a handful of issues this year that dominated politics in the Commonwealth.
Gov. Beshear's emergency powers
Republican lawmakers made it clear even before the 2021 regular legislative session started that they were going to go after the governor’s emergency power.
“When all authority is left to one person, it can be reckless,” Sen. Matt Castlen (R-Ownesboro) said on Jan. 7, when the Senate was voting on a bill to limit the governor’s emergency orders to 30 days unless lawmakers decide to extend them.
A day after SB 1 passed in the Senate, Gov. Andy Beshear said the bill would be devastating.
“We shouldn’t reduce our flexibility to where we would have less ability to respond than just about any other state in the country,” Beshear said.
That bill passed quickly, but the regular session went down to the wire with several important bills passed on the final day nearly three months later, including protections for businesses against COVID-19 lawsuits.
“I voted yes on this bill because as we traveled around the state last year, during the pandemic, every small business owner told us they wanted help,” Rep. Chad McCoy (R-Bardstown) said during the debate on the bill, noting other concerns he had about whether it gave businesses too much immunity.
Lawmakers also approved a bill significantly limiting the use of no-knock warrants, even though several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle opposed it for different reasons.
Rep. Chris Fugate (R-Chavies) voted for the bill, although he tried unsuccessfully to add multiple amendments that would have watered the bill down.
He said the fallout from the death of Breonna Taylor, the case that spurred discussion over no-knock warrants, was caused by a lack of God in the public sector.
“As I looked at those things that were going on in Louisville on those nights, I didn’t see bad police officers or bad people; I saw a broken society,” Fugate said. “So when did society begin to break? If you go back to 1962, the Bible was taken out of schools.”
Fugate’s comment spurred backlash from several Democrats in Louisville, including Rep. Pamela Stevenson.
“Yes, I’m upset. I have to teach my son how to drive while Black,” she said. “And you want to tell me about putting God back in school? Well, put Christ back in Christians.”
Beshear challenged the new law limiting his authority and the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled against him in August.
“It is what it is,” Beshear said after the ruling. “When they rule, that’s the law. Do I think it’ll have some ramifications? Yes, but at the end of the day, once that comes out, you’ve got to follow it.”
And the ruling meant a special session in September where lawmakers set new rules for schools and businesses, and effectively ended statewide mask mandates.
“These are the types of things that, when you do it statewide, you don’t get down to that local level to understand what particularly is taking place in a city or county,” Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said. “And it has been extreme on many places.”
While COVID mandates like masking and capacity restrictions were eliminated by the legislature, lawmakers extended several other executive orders related to COVID-19 until Jan. 15, about two weeks into the next session.