The Kentucky Constitution allows the Governor — and only the Governor — to call the General Assembly into Extraordinary (Special) Session and the Governor did so. The Constitution also requires the General Assembly to only consider what the Governor stipulates in the call.
In the Governor’s call we were asked to consider legislation to address several topics. These included extending the (COVID-19) state of emergency until Jan. 15, 2022; setting forth the criteria regarding the Governor’s authority to require facial coverings in indoor settings in certain circumstances; providing additional flexibility for school districts; and making an appropriation from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to support COVID-19 mitigation and prevention activities such as testing and vaccine distribution. We were also asked to extend by an additional 30 days a state of emergency declared by the Governor in response to the flash flooding in Nicholas County and the City of Carlisle on Aug. 3. Lastly, we were asked to consider additional flexibility for the manner in which incentives can be provided to economic development projects with more than $2 billion in investment.
A Joint Resolution is generally used for continuing or emergency appropriations, goes through the same legislative process as a bill, and has the same effect as a bill when it becomes law. During the Special Session, one (1) joint resolution and four (4) bills were considered. All five (5) pieces of legislation passed and have become law. The five (5) pieces of legislation were House Joint Resolution (HJR) 1, and Senate Bills (SB) 1, 2, 3, and 5.
HJR 1 extended a number of the Governor’s Executive Orders through January 15. Among these were price gouging protections, liability protection for businesses, extending licensing requirement deadlines, and having health insurers waive the costs for COVID-19 screening, testing, and immunizations. It also extended for an additional 30 days the state of emergency order for Nicholas County in its recovery from flash flooding.
HJR 1 did not extend mask mandates nor give the Governor authority to close businesses, schools or churches nor give the Governor the authority to enact vaccine mandates.
The Governor declared a State of Emergency on March 6, 2020, and it has remained in place since then. Eighteen months is far too long.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that have been around for a long time. Many can cause a variety of illnesses from a mild cough to severe respiratory illnesses. COVID-19 is simply one of several coronaviruses that are known to infect humans.
All indications are that COVID-19 and its variants will be with us for a very long time if not forever. It is time to cut the COVID cord. We can’t be in a state of emergency forever. We must learn to live with COVID-19 as we do with the flu and other viruses including other coronaviruses. Some of the items included in HJR 1 are fine, and could be considered in separate pieces of legislation. However I do not believe that putting off confronting the Governor’s emergency orders another four (4) months is in the best interests of the Commonwealth. Therefore I voted no on HJR 1.
SB 1 removed the mask mandate for children in Kindergarten through Grade 12 as well as children two (2) and older in licensed childcare facilities. SB 1 also prohibited all regulatory agencies from promulgating any administrative regulation that is identical to, or substantially the same as, the mask mandate. The decision of whether or not to require masks for children is now left to local school boards and the owners of licensed childcare facilities.
My preference was that the decision be left to parents, but the majority did not feel the same. All other language in the bill such as the number of required instructional hours in schools and the calculation of per pupil education funding remain the same as in legislation passed earlier this year during the General Assembly’s Regular Session. If SB 1 did not pass, the mask mandates for children would remain in place. Therefore I voted yes on SB 1.
The Kentucky Constitution states that “The Governor shall have the power to disapprove any part or parts of appropriation bills embracing distinct items.” The constitution does not authorize this type of veto for any other types of legislation. SB 1 was not an appropriation bill. Nevertheless, the Governor vetoed part of the bill. The Governor seems to have violated our constitution since he exercised a line-item veto in a non-appropriation bill. In an abundance of caution, however, the legislature overrode his veto. I voted to override the veto.
SB 2 modified the definition of COVID-19 pandemic to mean the national emergency declaration concerning COVID-19 as declared by the President of the United States and the United States Department of Health and Human Services rather than the Governor’s March 6, 2020 executive order.
SB 2 requires local health departments to recognize religious objections, conscientiously held objections, or medical opinions of an individual’s health care provider against vaccinations in an area of an epidemic. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services already was required to recognize those objections and medical exemptions. Now local health departments must do the same.
SB 2 also prevents future statewide mask mandates. I voted yes on SB 2, but the Governor again line-item vetoed part of the bill even though it was not an appropriation bill. As before, in an abundance of caution, the legislature overrode his veto. I voted to override the veto.
SB 3 directed certain money from the ARPA to aid healthcare needs related to COVID-19. The bill emphasizes that funding for the Health and Family Services Cabinet should be prioritized for COVID-19 testing but did not preclude spending the money elsewhere. With no restrictions on how the money could be spent, I voted no on SB 3.
SB 5 appropriated $410.6 million from the Budget Reserve Trust Fund for economic development projects that have a minimum investment of $2 billion. The money is to be used in the form of forgivable loans to those companies committing to invest $2 Billion or more. The loan forgiveness won’t be given all at once, but rather given over time as certain criteria are met. We’ve been told that there are several major projects being considered by companies and that without this bill, Kentucky would lose the projects to another state.
Details of these potential projects were not provided, but a decision by one company is supposed to be made by the end of September. It is my hope that this project or more will come to fruition.
The $410.6 million appropriated in SB 5 would not be returned to the Budget Reserve Trust Fund if a project or projects fall through, and the Cabinet for Economic Development will be requesting additional funds in the 2022 Session of the General Assembly. Without additional information I felt it best to vote no.
As I said, it is my hope that this project or more will come to fruition, and by the time this update is published a decision will probably have been made.
As always, thank you for reading my updates and thank you for contacting me with your concerns and thoughtful suggestions. It is a privilege to represent you in the Kentucky House of Representatives and your input helps me make decisions that best represent the views of the Fourth District. I may be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 800- 372- 7181, directly at 502- 564- 8100, by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home page at legislature.ky.gov and clicking on the Legislature button and then the contact a member link, or by mail to the Capitol Annex — Frankfort, KY 40601.