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Kentucky lawmakers reconvene to shape response to COVID-19

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Posted at 11:57 AM, Sep 07, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican lawmakers get their chance to shape Kentucky’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as they reconvened Tuesday for a special session that comes as the state’s hospitals treat surging numbers of coronavirus patients due to the fast-spreading delta variant.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear called the GOP-dominated legislature back to the statehouse to consider a range of virus-related issues. Republican lawmakers were expected to unveil bills that will guide Kentucky’s pandemic policies, and several committees were scheduled to review the measures on the opening day of the session. The session is expected to last at least five days.

Throughout the pandemic, the governor acted unilaterally in waging an aggressive response that had included statewide mask mandates and strict limits on gatherings. Beshear says his actions saved lives amid the public health crisis. Republicans criticized the governor for what they viewed as overly broad and stringent restrictions, most of which were lifted in June. Last month, the state Supreme Court shifted virus policymaking to the legislature.

Beshear laid out some of his requests when he announced the special session on Saturday. He’s asking lawmakers to extend the pandemic-related state of emergency until mid-January.

The most contentious issue is likely to come over masking policies. Beshear is asking legislators to give him authority to, at a minimum, require masking when COVID-19 infection rates reach high levels. The legislature also will consider allowing more school scheduling flexibility as many districts have paused in-person learning because of virus outbreaks.

The session comes as Kentucky hospitals have faced a record influx of virus patients.

“The delta variant is spreading at a rate never seen before, impacting businesses, shuttering schools and worse causing severe illness and death,” Beshear said Saturday.

“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 added.

Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda. Special sessions have no time limit but they usually last less than a week and cost taxpayers about $68,000 a day.

The session became necessary after the landmark state Supreme Court ruling last month that cleared the way for new laws to take effect limiting the governor’s emergency powers to impose virus restrictions. The state’s high court said a lower court wrongly blocked the GOP-backed measures.