Kentucky Politics

Kentucky lawmakers are working with Gov. Andy Beshear to come up with a possible agenda for a special legislative session on coronavirus.

Even though Republican lawmakers worked to restrict Beshear’s powers earlier this year, the party’s leaders in the legislature say they want to preserve some public health policies put in place by the Democratic governor, though they aren’t saying which ones yet.

House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, said several legislators are currently reviewing a list of pandemic priorities sent over by the governor.

“We will develop those plans over the next several days. I would expect that as the governor said, when we are ready, he would call us in to take action,” Osborne said.

Beshear is the only one with the power to summon lawmakers for a special session. Legislators normally pass laws during regular lawmaking sessions that begin in January and last for either 30 or 60 working days.

The special session has become a necessity for both Beshear and some Republican legislators because of a recent state Supreme Court ruling that upheld several new laws limiting the governor’s pandemic powers.

Among the new laws is a measure that limits Beshear’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature, meaning the governor’s March 2020 state of emergency declaration would expire without action from lawmakers.

And as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to surge across the state, leaders from both political parties say the state needs to take some action.

House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins said lawmakers from both parties need to come together.

“While the four of us may disagree from time to time on policy and how we get there, we all want to get to a place where Kentucky is safe and healthy and open for business,” Jenkins said.

Though the state Supreme Court ordered Franklin Circuit Court to dissolve its ruling that blocked the legislature’s Beshear-limiting laws from going into effect, the lower court still hasn’t done so.

During a hearing on Thursday, lawyers for Beshear and Republican legislators said they are negotiating an agreed order that would preserve some pandemic safety policies. Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd has given the parties 10 days to come to an agreement.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey said he’s glad the protections are still in place because the 138-member legislature isn’t designed to move quickly.

“If we’re going to actually come together in a responsible way that protects Kentuckians, we need these protections in place until we can do something we know keeps our people safe, our kids in school and our businesses open,” McGarvey said.

Republicans control nearly three-quarters of seats in both legislative chambers and will be in the driver’s seat for setting Kentucky’s coronavirus response for the first time in the pandemic.

It’s unclear what policies Republican lawmakers will agree on. Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said it’s unlikely his party would get behind any kind of mask mandate.

“At this point in time I don’t want to do a statewide mask mandate,” Stivers said. “I’m not in favor of blanket policies, but I think there are necessities in times and places where you do have to have policies.”

Beshear said, during a news conference on Thursday, that he would have reinstated the statewide mask mandate yesterday as new cases of coronavirus, deaths and hospitalization rates reach record-high levels.

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