FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — For the previous 17 months, Governor Andy Beshear was able to take action during COVID-19 surges in Kentucky.
"In previous surges, the governor - me - was empowered to act, to do what is necessary to stop the spike, to flatten the curve, to save lives," said Beshear on Saturday.
Lawmakers changed that when they passed several laws that limit the governor's emergency powers, and the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the governor must follow those laws.
So now, lawmakers must give Kentucky the ability to take certain actions during its current, aggressive coronavirus surge.
“Now, that burden will fall in large part on the General Assembly," Beshear said. "It will have to carry much of that weight to confront unpopular choices and to make decisions that balance many things, including the lives and the possible deaths of our citizens.”
Beshear called the legislature into a special session, beginning on Tuesday. In his agenda, he lists several pandemic-related issues he wants lawmakers to consider:
- to extend the state of emergency to Jan. 22, 2022
- to review executive orders; reviewing agency and cabinet orders
- to determine the governor's ability to require masking in certain situations
- to appropriate funding from American Rescue Plan to help combat coronavirus
- to provide schools with flexibility
It's a hefty list, but the governor says these items are needed now more than ever before.
"We have more cases per week than we've ever seen. We have a higher positivity rate than we've ever seen," said Beshear. "We have more people in the hospital than we've ever seen. We have more people in the ICU than we've ever seen."
However, the GOP supermajorities in both chambers will decide what measures ultimately pass.
Key GOP lawmakers have signaled their preference for policies favoring local decision-making over statewide mandates.
Beshear hopes lawmakers will give him the power to enact mask mandates or at least set some type of threshold that allows him to act.
"If they won't consider providing that authority in general, my hope is that they will consider a threshold to where they will provide me that authority," said Beshear. "In other words, if the local government can keep the levels low - in the green or even in the yellow - then maybe they would make that determination. But when it gets to orange or especially red, you know, sometimes it's easier to make the call here."
"I don't know exactly what the final outcome there will be," added Beshear. "But I certainly hope - given that we know it is an effective tool that is hard to implement without the governor - that they will give it significant consideration."