Health Kentucky Politics

Republican leaders of the Kentucky General Assembly say they will require lawmakers to wear masks during this year’s legislative session amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual session begins Tuesday and lasts until March 30.

On KET’s Kentucky Tonight, House Speaker David Osborne said that lawmakers will be required to wear masks when they are on the House Floor and when they’re in public places interacting with staff.

“Beyond that, if they are able to socially distance, if they are able to confine themselves to offices, then certainly we would relax those restrictions,” Osborne said.

When asked what the punishment would be for lawmakers who don’t wear masks, Osborne said “we’ll see.”

The requirement comes after several instances of lawmakers not wearing masks during interim committee hearings last year.

Republican and Democratic leaders of the legislature received the coronavirus vaccine over recent weeks, though it’s still unclear when the rest of the 138-member General Assembly will be eligible.

Senate President Robert Stivers said it would be difficult for leaders to punish lawmakers who don’t wear masks because “we can’t un-elect a person.”

“We hope there is compliance, because in both chambers, both Republican and Democrat, we do have individuals who are at risk. And we don’t want them to get infected and have long-term complications,” Stivers said.

The Republican leaders have been upset with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and say the governor hasn’t allowed them to weigh in on key conditions.

Stivers said that he wants to alter the “extent and duration” of the governor’s powers during a state of emergency.

“Nobody argues with the fact that there will be times that a governor needs to act without the legislative process being involved,” Stivers said. “But what length of time and what functions can the governor have authority over?”

Osborne said it’s possible that lawmakers will meet on the first Saturday of the legislative session to consider fast-tracked bills.

House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins, a Democrat from Louisville, said she’s not opposed to taking a look at the governor’s emergency powers, but cautioned against going too far.

“I think we have to be very careful that we’re not reacting or overcorrecting, from what folks may have seen as unpopular, but I think necessary choices that the governor made,” Jenkins said.

The legislative leaders also said that committee hearings will be limited to one hour, and be cleaned for another hour afterwards.

Stivers said he’s told legislators to expect fewer bills to move during this year’s session.

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