Gov. Beshear calls special session of General Assembly to continue fight against COVID-19

The governor no longer has the power to extend the state of emergency unilaterally.
Governor Andy Beshear
Governor Andy Beshear(Governor Andy Beshear)
Published: Sep. 4, 2021 at 4:37 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WXIX) - Gov. Andy Beshear on Saturday signed a proclamation calling the Kentucky General Assembly into a special session over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The special session will begin Tuesday at 10 a.m. You can read the governor’s proclamation here.

The General Assembly will contend with specific legislative requests, notably an extension of the current state of emergency until Jan. 15, when the General Assembly next returns in regular session.

The state of emergency provides agencies and public health officials with the ability to create orders tailored to fight COVID-19. Beshear said he will ask lawmakers to review and extend those orders.

He will also ask lawmakers to weigh in on his ability to impose mask mandates, whether statewide or as triggered in specific counties by the state’s color-coded incident rate map.

Another aim of the special session will be to grant Kentucky schools extra flexibility with Non-Traditional Instruction days, temporary remote instruction, hybrid instruction, additional sick leave, school reimbursements and added staffing, such as the return of retired teachers.

Last week the governor referenced several other administrative “tools” threatened by the expiration of the current state of emergency. They include more flexibility in refilling prescriptions; workers’ compensation for frontline workers; expanded SNAP benefits; and allowing doctors from other states to practice in Kentucky.

Beshear said the special session is necessary as the delta variant “burns through” Kentucky at an unprecedented rate, causing record hospitalizations and ICU visits.

“We need as many tools as possible to fight this deadly surge in order to save lives, keep our children in school and keep our economy churning,” he said.

The current state of emergency expires sometime in the next 30 days.

Beshear no longer has the power to extend the state of emergency unilaterally after the passage of Senate Bill 1 earlier this year.

SB1 provided that, once a state of emergency has expired, the governor cannot declare a new emergency “based on the same or substantially similar facts and circumstances as the original declaration or implementation without the prior approval of the General Assembly.”

The bill also limits executive orders restricting the functioning of certain institutions to 30 days unless extended by the General Assembly.

>> ‘I lost:’ Beshear rescinds school mask mandate after Supreme Court rules against him

A Kentucky Supreme Court opinion on Aug. 19 ruled the passage of SB1 was a valid exercise of the General Assembly’s power, dealing a significant—though not necessarily fatal—blow to the governor’s legal challenges.

(The opinion did not strictly rule on the constitutionality of SB1. Instead, it found the office of the governor was not sufficiently harmed in a legal sense by the General Assembly’s passage of SB1 to grant standing in the suit.)

Immediately after that ruling, Beshear rescinded his school-based statewide mask mandate in a good-faith gesture that paralleled the beginning of negotiations with legislative leaders.

“In previous surges, the governor was empowered to act to do what is necessary to stop the spike, flatten the curve, save lives,” Beshear said.

“The recent Supreme Court decision has changed that. Now that burden will fall in large part on the General Assembly. They will have to carry that weight, to make the unpopular choices.”

The governor began meeting with legislative leaders the day after the ruling, and both sides agreed to take time with the status quo intact before determining next steps.

“I think that was a good decision,” Beshear said. “It showed thoughtfulness overreaction.”

Draft legislation has already been exchanged between the two sides.

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