FRANKFORT, Ky. — How will Kentucky lawmakers respond to the latest surge of COVID-19?
For 16 months, Gov. Andy Beshear made most of the decisions, but it’ll be in lawmakers’ hands this week.
“I don’t understand how a pandemic has become such a politically-divisive topic,” Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D-Louisville) said. “We need to keep everyone healthy and safe.”
Bojanowski, a teacher in Jefferson County Public Schools, says schools will be on the top of her mind. She said she wants to give them more flexibility with closures due to COVID outbreaks.
“The research seems to indicate that the more mitigation strategies that you have in place, the safer the environment will be,” Bojanowski said.
Beshear’s call for a special session lists several things he wants lawmakers to tackle, including an extension the state of emergency and dozens of executive orders that Republicans already agreed to extend earlier this year; things like price-gouging protections and easing some hiring rules to bring in more staff.
Beshear is also asking lawmakers to give schools more flexibility to close when COVID outbreaks happen, whether that be extending nontraditional instruction days, moving to a hybrid model of in-person and virtual classes, or allowing districts to implement NTI at a school level and not districtwide.
The call also asks for more sick time for staff who come down with the disease and to ease restrictions on hiring so schools can make up for a shortage of teachers.
Last week, lawmakers discussed the possibility of flexibility, but Senate Education Committee chairman Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) said he doesn’t want to give schools unlimited virtual instruction.
“I would be very afraid of abuse that could possible come with that,” Wise said. “I’m all for child safety, but I’m also not in favor of shutting down.”
Beshear also asked for more flexibility to implement mask mandates.
“Remember that kept our emergency rooms and our hospitals from overflowing and being overrun before,” he said Saturday. “Well, we’re already to that stage now.”
But Republican leaders have said they don’t want a statewide rule.
“I’m not in favor of blanket policies, but I think there are necessities and times and places where you do have to have policies,” Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said Aug. 26. “But maybe on the local level.”
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville) says he just wants lawmakers to put health and safety first.
“We don’t have a scalpel, and we’re dealing with a virus that is surging all across Kentucky,” he said. “And we need to make sure that these school districts, that these administrators, that the Executive Branch have all the tools they need to keep kids safe and learning.”
Beshear’s call for a special session also includes asking lawmakers to approve more than $69 million dollars of American Rescue Plan Act money on COVID-19 response, an extension of the state of emergency declared following flooding in Nicholas County last month, and to either fund or provide flexibility for $2 billion worth of economic development projects.