Kentucky GOP Lawmakers Take Lead in COVID Fight | New policies
By BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – A landmark Kentucky Supreme Court ruling has largely shifted responsibility for the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic from Democratic Governor Andy Beshear to Republicans controlling the legislature.
Now, having mostly looked to the side as Beshear led an aggressive response during much of the pandemic, lawmakers will need to get ahold of it.
The change comes as the virus emerges. This means that Republican lawmakers, who have criticized the governor for what they considered too broad and strict restrictions for Kentuckians, will decide on mask mandates and vaccine incentives in the future.
Beshear, who is set to run for re-election in 2023, has vowed to stay involved. He raised the possibility of convening a special legislative session to deal with virus-related issues.
“I will do my best within the framework that has been provided,” said the governor. “I can still work my tail every day with the tools I have to protect people as best I can.”
Kentucky on Tuesday set another record for patients infected with the virus in hospitals and intensive care units and on ventilators. The 4,638 new cases statewide was the fifth-highest daily total in the pandemic, and Beshear said the state is in its “most dangerous period we’ve seen in this pandemic.”
Kentucky has reported at least 7,575 virus-related deaths. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the state’s death toll is the 27th highest in the country and the 30th per capita.
Now, Republican lawmakers will take much of the blame if those numbers change significantly.
“At a time when the pandemic is hotter than ever, it is thrown into the knees of the legislature,” said political commentator Al Cross. “They will now have to do more than talk. They will have to make tough decisions. They had the luxury of shooting Beshear, who kept them at bay, I recklessly think. But now they have to work together.
On Monday, Beshear discussed the potential need to reinstate a statewide mask mandate as hospitals and intensive care units fill with COVID patients. The Republican Head of the State Senate was quick to say that such a comprehensive approach would have a “very limited chance” of winning GOP qualified majorities in the legislature.
The state Supreme Court gave lawmakers the upper hand on Saturday when it paved the way for new laws to limit the governor’s emergency powers, which he used to impose restrictions in the event of a pandemic. Judges said a lower court wrongly blocked Republican-backed measures.
With the end of the state of emergency linked to the pandemic, Beshear plans to convene a special legislative session. If he does, he has the power to set the agenda. The governor lifted most of his virus-related restrictions in June.
Beshear acknowledges the changing dynamic while also pressing the need to consider a new statewide mask mandate as the delta variant adds pressure on besieged hospitals. He conceded that a masking requirement now requires legislative approval.
“I’ve been ready to run the ball for the past 18 months and make these tough decisions,” the governor told WKYT-TV. “In the future, what the Supreme Court has said is that these appeals will have to be made by the legislature.
“So I hope they have the courage to do the tough things,” he added. “As our hospitals fill up, as we run out of intensive care beds, we’re going to have to seriously consider a statewide mask mandate.”
State Senate Speaker Robert Stivers downplayed the prospects for such a term.
“A cover mask warrant, I think, would have a very limited chance,” Stivers said. “Now, if you’re talking about something focused, it might be a little different. “
He said GOP lawmakers are ready to present their plan if they are summoned again by the governor.
“We’ve been formulating things for some time that we think would be effective,” he said on Monday. “And if the governor decides to call us into special session, we’ll be ready to deploy these things. I hope we will do this in conjunction with the governor’s office.
Lawmakers may need to take action on things like emergency certifications for out-of-state healthcare providers and non-traditional instruction days for K-12 schools affected by the virus, Stivers said. .
He continued Tuesday by highlighting an effort to promote immunization in his hometown of Clay County. It features testimonials from local elected officials, teachers and other ‘influencers’ to encourage people to have their pictures taken. Similar grassroots efforts can be emulated elsewhere and can be done without legislative action, Stivers said.
The Senate Speaker stressed that “COVID is very real” and that “we must do all we can” to get people to get vaccinated.
Beshear’s office has followed a similar strategy since the start of the pandemic, featuring Kentuckians to promote mask wear, social distancing, hand washing and now vaccines.
Follow more information on AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.
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