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At Special Session, Ky. Lawmakers Extend COVID Emergency Orders

From the Legislative Research Commission

The Kentucky General Assembly kicked off the 2021 extraordinary session today by extending many of the COVID-19 related executive orders issued by Gov. Andy Beshear.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to adopt House Joint Resolution 1, which modifies some of the governor’s executive orders and extends many of them through Jan. 15. The resolution also extends a state of emergency order for Nicholas County, which is recovering from flash flooding, for another 30 days.

While introducing HJR 1, House Speaker David W. Osborne (R-Prospect) said it is similar to House Joint Resolution 77 from the 2020 Regular Session.

“These are all executive orders that are in the public space already,” Osborne said. “These are things that the governor has asked to be extended. No, we didn’t extend every single one he asked us to extend, but every order in here is already an existing order.”

Osborne described the orders in the resolution as “very beneficial.” They include protections from price gouging, expanding nutrition assistance, allowing flexibility for retired first responders to return to work, allowing state and local governments to conduct business and meetings virtually and more.

Osborne said HJR 1 also addresses extending the provisions of two bills— one from the 2021 Regular Session and another from the 2020 Regular Session. One provided COVID-19 liability protection for businesses. The other allowed certain flexibilities in regards to unemployment insurance.

HJR 1 was adopted by the House by a 92-3 vote after lawmakers voted to waive rules that require a bill or resolution to undergo three readings on three separate days before receiving final passage.

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell (D-Louisville) was one of the legislators to explain her “yes” vote. Cantrell said while she voted against HJR 77 from the 2021 Regular Session because she found it arbitrary, she decided to vote yes on HJR 1 since the legislature will be back in session by the Jan. 15 expiration date.

HRJ 1 was also introduced and adopted by the Senate today by a 32-4 vote.

“The need is real,” Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens (R-Greensburg) said while explaining what necessitated the resolution. “Across our commonwealth we have families, citizens and communities struggling with the reality of COVID, something we had never heard of 18 months ago, something we didn’t know existed, something that remains a challenge.”

Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) voted for the resolution but expressed concern over a section he said would allow nurse practitioners to write more prescriptions for narcotics.

“There are a lot of other good things in this resolution, but prescribing more controlled substances does nothing to help us treat COVID more rapidly or effectively,” he said.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville) voted for the resolution but said he feared it still restricted the executive branch from using all its resources to combat the virus.

“What this virus has shown us is that it does not know the bounds of legislation or political party,” McGarvey said. “Because of that, I want to make sure we do everything while we are here to make sure we do not have to come back.”

HJR 1 now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto. Beshear may also allow HJR 1 to become law without his signature.

Beshear issued a proclamation on Saturday calling the Kentucky General Assembly into an extraordinary session to tackle issues related to the pandemic, a state of emergency for Nicholas County and funding for certain economic development projects.

Earlier this year, lawmakers approved legislation to limit how long certain executive orders can remain in effect before they require legislative approval. That included orders that place restrictions on the function of schools, businesses or nonprofits.

If the governor wishes to extend those types of executive orders beyond 30 days, he or she must call the legislature into an extraordinary session.

Other issues lawmakers hope to address this week include staffing shortages at hospitals and schools, access to COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment, access to vaccines, mask mandates at public schools and childcare centers, visitation at long term care facilities and funding for economic development projects.

The Senate will reconvene at 9 a.m. Wednesday with the House to follow at 10 a.m.

Photo: Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives David W. Osborne (R-Prospect)