FRANKFORT— After clearing the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week, House Bill 1 became the first bill passed by the House this legislative session.
Gov. Andy Beshear issued a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 6, 2020. Since then, he has issued several Stay at Home orders requiring businesses, especially restaurants, to close for a period of time to indoor dining. Public schools have also remained closed to in-person learning for much of the last year in most of the state.
A group of lawmakers is now trying to change that.
“House Bill 1 is the House Majority’s attempt to provide clarity and reassurance to our businesses and schools, especially those that have been so harshly impacted by the COVID-19 virus … as reassurance to them that if they can operate safely in a manner that protects both employees and patrons or students, if they’re a school, that they can remain open,” Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, who is the primary sponsor of the bill, said.
HB 1 would allow any business or school district to remain open as long as they form and implement a comprehensive COVID-19 safety plan following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pandemic guidelines and post the plan on-site, such as on a front door, where customers or students and parents can read them.
In an effort to help businesses that are struggling due to pandemic-related closures and building capacity restrictions, the bill also suspends penalty and interest on unpaid unemployment insurance through the end of the calendar year.
The bill would also ensure that in-person noncustodial parental visitation would be allowed to resume that had once been suspended due to the pandemic.
In addition, residents of long-term care facilities would be allowed to have a designated essential personal care visitor. The visitor would be required to follow COVID-19 safety protocols among other requirements.
Visitation for residents in long-term care facilities has been restricted due to the pandemic.
Minority Whip Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, criticized the bill, saying while it is framed as a bill to help businesses and schools, some of the CDC guidelines are confusing and some are stricter than the guidelines in place by Beshear’s executive orders.
“The way to reopen our economy is to defeat COVID-19,” Hatton said, adding she fears this bill would increase the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Kentucky.
Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington, also spoke against the bill, stating it lessens power of the state in favor of the CDC, a federal organization.
HB 1 co-sponsor and Majority Floor Leader, Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, said the CDC is the “gold standard” and that it says schools should reopen, which he supports.
HB 1, which passed 73 to 15, will now move to the Senate for consideration.
Lawmakers seek say in executive orders and regs
FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate moved swiftly on the third day of the 2021 Regular Session to pass a pair of bills that would curtail the governor’s use of executive orders and regulations.
The first measure, Senate Bill 1, would dictate that executive orders that place restrictions on the function of schools, businesses or nonprofits expire after 30 days – unless extended by the General Assembly. The same would go for executive orders that regulate political, religious and social gatherings or impose mandatory quarantines or isolation requirements. SB 1 passed by a 27-9 vote.
The second measure, Senate Bill 2, would have similar effects. That measure would require some administrative regulations to last no longer than 30 days if, for example, they imposed restrictions on gatherings or mandatory quarantines. SB 2 passed by a 31-6 vote.
“Senate Bill 1 represents freedom,” Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said in reference to the governor’s emergency executive orders issued in the wake of the worldwide pandemic. “Our people are screaming out. In my district, I take calls from small business owners who are weeping. They don’t know how to feed their families”
The fact the bills were given the designations of SB 1 and SB 2 denotes the measures are a priority of the chamber’s majority caucus leadership.
Minority Floor Leader Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he was not in favor of SB 1. “The pain of this pandemic is not partisan,” he said. “My fear is that this bill is. In this instance, the elected official best suited to deal with a pandemic is the governor, particularly when we have a part-time legislature.”
Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said SB 1 wasn’t “trying to strip anyone’s powers.”
Sen. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro, said he introduced the bill because the pandemic brought to light “fractures” in the current laws concerning executive orders. He said other provisions of SB 1 would allow chief executive officers or legislative bodies of local governments to seek emergency executive orders for their communities beyond 30 days in length.
Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, a sponsor of SB 2, said the goal of that measure was to provide a more logical administrative process, transparency and legislative oversight to hamper the ability of executive agencies to legislate through regulation.
“Some of the reasons regulation reform is so important and is dealt with in Senate Bill 2 as a priority bill is that fact that regulations are law,” West said. “When agency regulations are promulgated and accepted, they become the law of the land. They are where the rubber meets the road.”
Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, spoke against SB 2. “Do not let the politics of this pandemic, do not let what has happened on a national level, affect the ability of this state and the people of this state to respond appropriately and be kept safe,” she said.
Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Montgomery, said SB 2 was needed to stop the executive branch from abusing the regulatory process. “I don’t see anywhere where this bill mentions COVID-19,” he said. “Somehow that is where this discussion has gone.”
SB 1 and SB 2 contain emergency clauses, meaning the measures would become effective immediately if it is passed into law rather than 90 days after adjournment of the legislature. The bills now go to the state House of Representatives for further consideration.