Kentucky Politics

Republican leaders of the Kentucky legislature say that the 2020 legislative session will continue as scheduled despite worries about large gatherings exacerbating the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers announced that they are restricting in-person access to meetings to lawmakers, essential staff and reporters.

But the Republican legislative leaders said that the legislature would be back to business on Tuesday.

“We believe that the General Assembly has a responsibility to the people of Kentucky and our membership is committed to fulfilling that obligation,” Osborne and Stivers wrote in the statement.

“However, we are putting in place a number of safety procedures based on the recommendations of public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended on Sunday that people not gather in groups of more than 50 people.

The Kentucky House of Representatives has 100 members, the state Senate has 38. During the legislative session, hundreds of staff and reporters work in the state capitol campus.

Republican leaders said that there would be increased streaming of committee meanings as well as House and Senate floor proceedings on KET’s website.

They also wrote that further changes are possible “as legislators continue to evaluate the situation and prioritize the health and safety of all involved in the legislative process.”

House Democrats released their own directive urging members over age 60 or with health issues to stay at home.

The statement, from House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins, Rep. Derrick Graham and Rep. Angie Hatton, said that the legislature should only consider the budget and other critical bills dealing with the outbreak.

“We worry that even that may have to wait until a special session, given that the President and the CDC have asked Americans to limit groups of 10 or more,” the statement said. “We believe this situation is fluid and should be re-evaluated every day.  We cannot ask Kentuckians to take draconian steps if we are not willing to do them ourselves.”

The announcement that the legislative session will continue comes after Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear moved to close to State Capitol building to the public Tuesday morning, only allowing essential employees.

Beshear urged the legislature to quickly pass a budget, leaving the door open for calling lawmakers back to amend it later.

“We are to the point we’re going to have to get through this coronavirus and see what investments we can make at that point,” Beshear said.

State law requires the session to end before April 15.

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