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Ky. House Passes Bill Allowing Schools, Businesses to Reopen

After clearing the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week, House Bill 1 became the first bill passed by the House this legislative session.

Gov. Andy Beshear issued a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 6, 2020. Since then, he has issued several Stay at Home orders requiring businesses, especially restaurants, to close for a period of time to indoor dining. Public schools have also remained closed to in-person learning for much of the last year in most of the state.

A group of lawmakers is now trying to change that.

“House Bill 1 is the House Majority’s attempt to provide clarity and reassurance to our businesses and schools, especially those that have been so harshly impacted by the COVID-19 virus … as reassurance to them that if they can operate safely in a manner that protects both employees and patrons or students, if they’re a school, that they can remain open,” Rep. Bart Rowland (R-Tompkinsville), who is the primary sponsor of the bill, said.

HB 1 would allow any business or school district to remain open as long as they form and implement a comprehensive COVID-19 safety plan following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pandemic guidelines and post the plan on-site, such as on a front door, where customers or students and parents can read them.

In an effort to help businesses that are struggling due to pandemic-related closures and building capacity restrictions, the bill also suspends penalty and interest on unpaid unemployment insurance through the end of the calendar year.

The bill would also ensure that in-person noncustodial parental visitation would be allowed to resume that had once been suspended due to the pandemic.

In addition, residents of long-term care facilities would be allowed to have a designated essential personal care visitor. The visitor would be required to follow COVID-19 safety protocols among other requirements.

Visitation for residents in long-term care facilities has been restricted due to the pandemic.

Minority Whip Rep. Angie Hatton (D-Whitesburg) criticized the bill, saying while it is framed as a bill to help businesses and schools, some of the CDC guidelines are confusing and some are stricter than the guidelines in place by Beshear’s executive orders.

“The way to reopen our economy is to defeat COVID-19,” Hatton said, adding she fears this bill would increase the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Kentucky.

Rep. Buddy Wheatley (D-Covington) also spoke against the bill, stating it lessens power of the state in favor of the CDC, a federal organization.

HB 1 co-sponsor and Majority Floor Leader Rep. Steven Rudy (R-Paducah) said the CDC is the “gold standard” and that it says schools should reopen, which he supports.

HB 1, which passed 73 to 15, will now move to the Senate for consideration.

From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo: Rep. Bart Rowland (provided)

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