Kentucky Politics

Kentucky lawmakers will return to Frankfort on Tuesday for an unusual legislative session in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike most years when committee rooms and galleries can be packed with advocates, lobbyists and other interested parties, access to the Capitol will be limited, though many proceedings can still be accessed on KET’s website.

Legislators will be faced with weighty issues: they’ll need to pass a one-year budget amid uncertainties about how much money the state will bring in, respond to the coronavirus pandemic and Republican leaders say they want to strip Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of his power to respond to the pandemic.

Beshear has said he wants to find new revenue sources for the state during the economic crisis—including initiatives like sports betting and medical marijuana, which have gotten limited support in previous years.

Beshear will unveil his budget proposal during a virtual State of the Commonwealth Address on Jan. 6.

But outside of controlling the bully pulpit during his daily briefings, Beshear will have little say on what the legislature passes. Republicans will be returning to Frankfort with historic veto-proof majorities, and a vendetta to clip Beshear’s emergency powers.

During last year’s elections, Republicans secured 75 out of 100 seats in the House of Representatives and 30 out of 38 seats in the Senate, a high-water mark for the party.

Frustrated that they have had little control of the state’s response to the pandemic after last year’s legislative session ended in April, Republican leaders of the legislature have said they want to find a way to change the way Kentucky governors are allowed to respond to a pandemic.

So far, proposals include requiring the governor to call the legislature in for a special session to extend a state of emergency beyond 30 days and a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to call itself into special session.

Other Republican initiatives include passing liability protections to businesses to prevent pandemic-related lawsuits and restructuring the teacher pension system to provide weaker benefits for teachers hired starting next year.

Anti-abortion advocates hope to revive a bill that would require doctors to provide care to infants born alive after a failed abortion attempt and giving Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron more authority to regulate abortion providers.

Lawmakers will also consider banning no-knock warrants in the state following the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor.

Louisville Democratic Rep. Attica Scott has proposed a bill banning no-knock warrants, requiring drug testing of officers involved in fatal shootings and creating penalties for not turning on body cameras.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers has said he will propose a bill banning some no-knock warrants, but hasn’t filed it yet.

This year’s legislative session will last 30 working days and is required to end by March 30.

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