Health Kentucky Politics

The Kentucky House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow businesses and schools to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic as long as they follow federal guidelines, even if that goes against Gov. Andy Beshear’s orders.

House Bill 1 still needs to pass out of the state Senate before it can become law. The Republican-led legislature could easily override a veto by Beshear if he were to do so.

Rep. Steve Rudy, a Republican from Paducah, said that more businesses and schools should be open and criticized the governor’s approach.

“We just want to know as a policy making branch, why in the world he’s doing this. The CDC is the gold standard, the CDC says schools should be open,” Rudy said.

The bill would also allow family visitation for children in foster care during the pandemic (such visits were temporarily suspended in November, but have resumed) and waive interest on businesses’ unemployment insurance bills until next year.

The measure is one of several racing to passage during the first week of this year’s legislative session that would alter the governor’s power amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill would allow businesses and schools to open as long as they “meet or exceed” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, though it’s unclear which recommendations lawmakers want followed.

The CDC provides several recommendations for how schools and businesses can try and operate during the pandemic, though it also recommends that people shelter in place when possible if they live in an area where the virus is spreading uncontrollably.

Currently, 114 of Kentucky’s 120 counties are considered to have uncontrolled spread of the virus, meaning there are at least 25 cases per 100,000 people.

Rep. Patti Minter, a Democrat from Bowling Green, said that Republicans were ceding power to the federal government.

“I think we need to be more deliberative as we fight this war against COVID, because if we don’t win the war against COVID, none of us win. Our businesses do not stay open, and many of us don’t survive,” Minter said.

Leaders of the Republican-led legislature have waived requirements that typically slow down passage of bills, meaning House Bill 1 and a handful of other measures could be headed to the governor’s desk on Saturday if lawmakers continue to move quickly.

Other fast-tracked bills include House Bill 2, which would give Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron power to enforce abortion regulations, Senate Bill 1, which would require the governor to get approval from the legislature to extend emergency orders beyond 30 days, and Senate Bill 9, the so-called “born alive” abortion bill.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.