UPDATE: Lawmakers override vetoes; Lincoln, Scott schools among first to keep mask mandate

UPDATE PSTED 12:30 A.M. FRIDAY, SEPT. 10, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Even before the Legislature concluded its special session just before midnight Thursday, some school districts were taking their new authority to heart.

For instance, the Lincoln and Scott County boards of education approved a mask mandate for schools during a meeting Thursday night.

In Lincoln County, the vote was 5-0 and keeps in place an order approved Aug. 12 by the state Board of Education. That order was removed by legislation approved during the special session.

That bill gave local school bards and superintendents the authority to require masks and take other steps to slow the spread of COVID.

In a Facebook post, the Scott County board said

“All students, employees, visitors, and guests of Scott County Schools are still required to wear a mask inside all schools and district-operated buildings and on school buses. We first communicated this expectation in early August, prior to actions taken by the governor and state board of education.
“The general assembly is considering legislation that will give the authority regarding mask mandates to local school districts. To keep students and staff safe and keep our schools open for in-person instruction, universal masking will remain in effect for Scott County Schools,” the post continued
“At this time, the mask requirement includes everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Masking and other safety protocols in our district limit the number of student and staff quarantines in Scott County and reduce the spread of COVID-19. These measures allow the safe continued operation of our schools,” the district concluded.

The legislature worked through the afternoon and into the night Thursday to complete the special session in three days. Gov. Andy Beshear called the special session at the direction of the state Supreme Curt after the court issued a ruling that took much of the policymaking authority concerning COVID away from the governor and gave it to the General Assembly.

In a line-item veto issued Thursday night, Beshear vetoed language eliminating the mask mandate and some other provisions.

The House and Senate, controlled by Republican super majorities, overrode the vetoes and adjourned just before midnight.

More than one-fifth of Kentucky’s school districts have closed due to COVID-19 this school year. A majority have said they will make up the days later in the year instead of using NTI, partially out of concern over using up the allotted 10 days.

The legislature also passed SB 2 bill that bans any type of statewide mask mandate for Kentuckians from taking effect until mid-2023, leaving the decision to require masks up to local governments and businesses.

The legislation went further than just masks, including a ban on visitor limits at nursing homes as well as a call for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to increase COVID-19 testing and vaccine access and for the creation of regional clinics to administer monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19.

Many of the state’s acute care hospitals already use the treatment but it’s reaching only a small percentage of patients although the number is growing.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers put the focus back on Beshear, angrily criticizing his approach t responding to the pandemic, calling it “unilateral” for not including the Legislature.

“You expect us to have faith in a person like that?” Stivers retorted, shortly before ending his remarks and setting the stage for a vote.

Not everything was so politicized.

Democrats and Republicans largely backed plans to spend more than $69 million in federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan. That was included in SB 3.

The money focuses on testing for health care providers, schools, local health departments and correctional facilities, as well supporting antibody providers.

Lawmakers previously had approved SB 5 to target mega economic development projects, including thought to be looking at a site in Hardin County.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 6 P.M. THURSDAY, SEPT. 9, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) (UPDATE) – State Lawmakers in both the Senate and the House have passed an education bill that removes the mask mandate in Kentucky public schools, previously put into effect by the Kentucky Department of Education.

The bill giving control to the school districts to enforce a mask mandate or not, some schools already deciding. Scott County Schools stating its mask mandate will remain in effect.

We asked on Facebook what Kentuckians thought of the passing of this bill….it was met with mixed reaction.
Some saying “good” and “great news”, while others say “it will cost us children’s lives” and “foolish move”.

The House has also passed Senate Bill 2 and 3, preventing any future statewide mask mandates until June 2023 and giving more money to health care.

You can find all the details below.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP/WTVQ) — Republican lawmakers in Kentucky moved closer Thursday to scrapping a statewide mask mandate in public schools, advancing a measure to shift masking decisions to local school boards as a surging COVID-19 outbreak threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

The Legislature also is on the verge of approving a resolution that would allow a COVID antibody test meeting certain levels to be the equivalent of a vaccination card in Kentucky. It doesn’t put any requirements on businesses.

The Senate suspended its rules and approved SJR 3 25-10 at about 5 p.m. and the House was expected to take it up later Thursday night.

The state Senate and House passed the legislation that sets education policies in response to disruptions caused by the pandemic, which has forced dozens of districts to close schools. The measure moved to the House for a showdown vote on the third day of a special session called by the Democratic governor. Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in both chambers. Many lawmakers attending the session were not wearing masks.

Another bill winning Senate passage would ban any statewide mask mandate until June 2023, leaving the decision up to local governments and businesses. The vote sent the bill to the House.

It was part of a broad measure dealing with medical staffing, vaccines, tests and treatments related to COVID-19. The mask provision was aimed at Gov. Andy Beshear, who previously used a masking requirement to slow the virus’s spread and said recently he thought another mask order was needed to confront the current surge.

The flurry of legislative action came as the governor reported that only 90 adult intensive care beds were available statewide — the lowest number of the pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of Kentucky’s hospitals face critical staffing shortages as they are inundated with COVID-19 patients, he said.

“Our hospital situation has never been more dire in my lifetime than it is right now,” Beshear said.

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, asserted their newfound dominance in shaping Kentucky’s pandemic policies as the result of a recent state Supreme Court ruling last month. The court cleared the way for laws to take effect limiting the governor’s emergency powers to impose virus restrictions. The justices said a lower court wrongly blocked the GOP-backed measures.

The school-related bill would nullify the state school board’s requirement that anyone in public K-12 schools wear a mask. It also would end a separate state mask mandate for child care centers.

Supporters said mask decisions are best left to local boards, to reflect the will of their communities.

“This bill will give local control back to the districts — not mandating they do, not mandating they don’t,” said Republican Sen. Max Wise, the bill’s sponsor. “They make the decision of what they think is best for their constituents in their communities.”

Opponents warned that lifting the mask mandate would heighten the risk of children and school staffs becoming infected by the coronavirus. By putting the burden on school boards to decide mask policies, Democratic Sen. Karen Berg said the legislature was abdicating its responsibility.

“I think you are asking for fights in school board meetings, where parents are going to be intimidated, where school board members are going to be intimidated,” Berg said.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, the chamber’s top-ranking Democrat, said removing the protection of masks comes at a time when the delta variant is infecting more young Kentuckians. More than 300,000 Kentucky students aren’t old enough to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, he said.

“This bill … is really a life-and-death bill,” said Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas. “If we eliminate mask mandates, then we are putting all children and all school personnel at severe risk.”

The measure also would give school districts more scheduling flexibility to cope with virus outbreaks. It would allow local school leaders to limit remote instruction to a particular school, grade or classroom — depending on the extent of the outbreak — instead of closing the entire district. The overriding goal is to keep children in class when possible, Wise said.

“What we’re looking to do here is a fair and flexible method that superintendents can get behind,” said Wise, the Senate Education Committee chairman.

The special session marked a dramatic power shift in the state’s response to COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, Beshear acted unilaterally in setting statewide virus policies. Republicans criticized him for what they viewed as overly broad and stringent restrictions, most of which were lifted in June.

Beshear called lawmakers back to the Capitol in response to the state Supreme Court ruling.

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