FRANKFORT, Ky. — Lawmakers sent a bill extending several COVID-19 policies for school districts to the governor Thursday.
Senate Bill 25 was originally just a bill dealing with schools; giving them 10 remote learning days, helping them hire retired teachers as substitutes, extending liability protections to districts, and more.
A House committee substitute on the bill, introduced during Thursday’s House State and Local Government Committee, included an extension of a wide range of COVID-19 executive orders that are set to expire this weekend.
“I will tell you that this is what I am told that the House and Senate leadership could agree on in terms of extension of emergency orders and some other matters,” committee chairman Rep. Jerry Miller (R-Eastwood) said.
The extensions are similar to what lawmakers passed in Sept. to keep many COVID-19 orders in place.
On the floor, House Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins (D-Shively) expressed concern about how rushed the process was, even though she voted to approve it.
“This is not the way to take care of the commonwealth,” she said. “This is not the way to do business.”
The bill passed in the House 84-9 and in the Senate 17-8 with all of the no votes coming from Republicans, including Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville), the bill’s sponsor.
Wise spoke about the bill during the House committee meeting, but left before the committee substitute was explained.
“This is more of a surgical strike,” he said. “If you have a fifth-grade class that needs to be shut down for COVID-19, a school building could close that particular grade. If they wish to do an entire high school, they could do so.”
Wise said the bill does enough to protect kids to help while keeping them in school as much as possible.
“We know that is what’s best for children,” he said. “This does provide flexibility for superintendents to make that decision, once again, without completely shutting down the entire district.”
Spectrum News 1 reached out to a spokeswoman for the Senate GOP caucus seeking comment from Wise following the vote and has not heard back.
Lawmakers in both chambers also approved a resolution extending the state of emergency due to the tornadoes in Western Kentucky last month to April 14, the last day of session, which is the same day the COVID-19 emergency orders will also expire.
House Bill 56
The House State and Local Government committee also passed a bill giving line-of-duty death benefits to first responders who die from COVID-19.
Zoneton Fire Protection District Chief Kevin Moulton testified in support of the bill after two of their leaders — former chief Rob Orkies and former Acting Chief Garry Key — died from COVID-19 just two months apart.
“Both were very active in the community, very active members with the fire protection district, and a great loss to the community,” he said.
It’s not clear yet when the death benefits bill will receive a vote on the House floor.