Kentucky lawmakers OK virus liability shield for businesses

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Kentucky lawmakers voted Tuesday to shield businesses and health care facilities from coronavirus-related lawsuits as they hurried to finish work before ending this year’s session.

After spending weeks in limbo, the liability protection measure resurfaced to clear the House on a 70-27 vote. The Senate later voted 24-14 to send the bill to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

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Both chambers are dominated by Republicans, who were mindful they won’t have a chance to override any gubernatorial vetoes of bills passed in the final two days of the session.

That means Beshear could have the final say on whether the protections are put in place. Beshear’s office said the governor and his team would review the final version of each bill that comes to them and decide what’s in the best interest of Kentuckians.

The COVID-related bill aims to offer pandemic-related protections without creating blanket immunity from civil liability, Republican Rep. C. Ed Massey said. The protections wouldn’t apply if businesses engaged in practices deemed as grossly negligent or as willful or intentional misconduct, he said.

“We have really tried to thread the needle … to give an adequate amount of protection while not giving them blanket immunity,” Massey said.

The bill’s critics portrayed the liability shield as an overreach interfering with constitutional protections on access to the courts and to seek personal-injury awards.

“I trust our juries and I trust our judges to weed out frivolous claims and to protect those who need protecting,” said Democratic Rep. Angie Hatton said.

Meanwhile, a bill that would limit access to some open records of judges, police and prosecutors passed the Senate Tuesday afternoon. The legislation, which passed the Kentucky House along party lines Monday night, was amended to also include family members and prevent access to information such as property tax records, vehicle registration or home addresses. It now heads to Beshear.

Local press and open government advocates have expressed their opposition to the measure.

Since the session comes to a close Tuesday, the General Assembly will not have the opportunity to reconvene and override a veto, if it occurs.

Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.