House, Senate approve first ‘checklist’ of executive orders, debates still loom

FRANKFORT, Ky. WTVQ/Kentucky Chamber) – Gov. Andy Beshear called working with the Legislature “collaborative” as the special session completed it’s first day with the passage of a broad blueprint — a checklist as the governor called it — of executive orders that should be extended, but he also acknowledged some tough discussions lie ahead.

“It’s been a very positive working relationship where we’re about 95% of things we are on agreement. There is disagreement over masking and I think that will be a real debate as we move forward, but the willingness to listen and communicate back and forth has been very positive and I think it shows the House is serious about doing the work. This bill was very collaborative,” Beshear said during a briefing Tuesday afternoon.

The Kentucky General Assembly granted final passage to House Joint Resolution 1, preserving some emergency executive orders enacted earlier in 2021 by Gov. Andy Beshear.

The House and Senate suspended many of their normal rules to try to expedite action during the special session. HJR 1 passed the full house by a vote of 92-3 and later passed the Senate 32-4.

The measure passed the State Government Committee earlier on Tuesday, where House Speaker David Osborne was joined by Representative Matt Koch and legal counsel to present HJR 1.

“On these executive orders, we are extending them through January 15, 2022,” House Speaker David Osborne said of HJR 1, noting that gives lawmakers time to extend them again or make changes when the next session of the Legislature begins.

Speaker Osborne said that, while there has been some disagreement between the GOP-controlled legislature and the Democrat-held executive branch, there are several policies on which the two branches are in agreement.

“I think that much of that discussion has been focused on the things we disagree on; whether it be mask mandates, capacity restrictions, or other shutdowns. But, by and large, most of the executive orders were very important, and I think most people are in agreement with them,” Osborne said.

The speaker pointed to policy items like licensure for healthcare workers and price gouging, as measures that he said “we could all support.”

Osborne said the extensions of the emergency order under House Joint Resolution 1 will also apply to the provisions passed earlier this year in Senate Bill 5 and in SB 150 from the 2020 Session.

Additionally, Osborne said the resolution will also extend the provisions of the state of emergency that the Governor issued for Nicholas County due to extreme flooding, specifically in the town of Carlisle, that occurred on July 30.

Rep. Koch, whose district encompasses Nicholas County, said the storm peaked when the area saw 5.5 inches of rain in one hour, causing the loss of 30 businesses in the community and significant flood damage to at least 90 residences.

“The FEMA application is still pending,” Koch said. “It’s very important to extend these protections to the people of Nicholas County. They need help.”

Meanwhile, while it may not make a difference with House and Senate, both of which are controlled by Republican super majorities, a group of 74 Kentucky organizations, including education, health care, justice, faith and labor groups, sent a letter to the Kentucky General Assembly, calling on them to protect Kentuckians in the ongoing pandemic.

The letter was initially sent on Sept. 3, 2021, and many new signatories were added in an updated letter sent on Sept. 7, 2021. The letter states:

Dear Members of Senate and House Leadership:

The undersigned organizations are writing today to urge the Kentucky General Assembly in a special session to take the necessary steps to protect the health of Kentuckians, our workforce, and our children’s education.

At a time when COVID-19 is raging through our Commonwealth at record-breaking levels, the Kentucky Supreme Court’s recent decision to vacate an injunction that suspended the effectiveness of  legislation that limits Governor Beshear’s executive authority to respond to the pandemic has created an opportunity for legislators to step forward and take action.

Now that the Supreme Court has clarified legislative authority via HB1, SB1, SB2 and HJR77, urgent legislative action is needed to address the significant sources of federal funding and additional food assistance for children and families. These new laws could potentially eliminate flexibilities to increase our healthcare capacity and other measures to protect and educate students, to support workers and to protect our long-term care and incarcerated residents. Now that these laws are enacted, we recommend that the General Assembly take the following actions during the upcoming special legislative session to respond to the ongoing pandemic so that we can keep Kentuckians safe, learning and thriving, and our economy going strong:

  • Adhere to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) COVID-19 safety recommendations in order to protect Kentucky’s working families.
    • Allocate resources for additional promotion of vaccinations.
    • Offer guaranteed paid time off and other benefits for workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine themselves and to take their children to vaccination appointments, as soon as they are eligible.
    • Empower local governments to make their own decisions regarding social distancing, capacity restrictions, and masking for businesses and public transportation, except in red (high incidence rate) counties, create and establish a set of requirements that will automatically apply when counties are red.
    • Allow state and local public employees to continue working remotely, unless the responsibilities of their job require in-person work.
    • Allow state and local public employees to provide virtual and telephonic services to the public when possible in order to minimize in-person interactions.
    • Require businesses, schools, local governments, and nonprofits to adhere to the “least restrictive” federal or state public health guidelines at a minimum.
  • Protect Kentucky’s children along with their families, their teachers, and the community agencies that care for them.
    • Provide greater flexibility to local school boards to be able to use non-traditional instruction (NTI) days during the public health emergency.
    • Require universal masking for schools in red (high incidence rate) counties to protect children along with the workers and families accompanying or supervising them.
    • Incentivize public schools to opt-in to free testing and use of the state testing portal to guarantee school districts have the capacity to identify, track, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to keep students, faculty, and staff in school.
    • To ensure accurate and actionable data, require local health departments, healthcare facilities, long-term care facilities, correctional facilities, county jails, and others who may fall within reporting requirements to prevent community spread of infectious diseases to maintain current reporting requirements to DPH related to the spread of COVID-19.
    • Give the Cabinet for Health & Family Services (CHFS) the ability to protect children and families against the spread of COVID-19 by implementing masking, social distancing, and/or other risk mitigation protocols during visitations with family members, noncustodial parents, and fictive kin.
    • Prioritize funding for schools to have school-based mental health professionals and school nurses at every school statewide.
  • Protect people who are incarcerated in Kentucky and the staff who work in jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities, along with their families and communities.
    • Require universal masking and regular testing for all incarcerated people housed in county jails and prisons, children housed juvenile facilities, and all staff who work in those facilities located in red counties, and provide resources through ARPA monies to allow this to happen without imposing additional burdens on county governments. This is especially important because incarcerated people and children who are committed to live in a facility do not have the freedom to take measures to protect themselves.
    • Allocate resources to encourage incarcerated people and staff who work in county jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities to get vaccinated, and to provide vaccinations at those facilities.
    • Take action to alleviate severe overcrowding in many of the county jails by releasing people awaiting trial that can legally be released so that there is room to separate people housed in the jails with different COVID statuses and to provide social distancing. Based on the August 26th jail population report, there were 11 county jails at over 150% of capacity and a total of 42 county facilities that were over 100% of capacity – a situation that clearly does not allow for any distancing measures to be implemented.
  • Keep state emergency orders in place while the pandemic continues in order to protect food assistance like the Pandemic EBT program (P-EBT) and the SNAP Emergency Allotments for thousands of Kentucky’s children and families. Seventy-five percent of Kentucky’s students rely on school meals for their daily nutrition, feeding more than 7 in 10 Kentucky kids at risk of hunger during the pandemic. P-EBT alone has fed over 650,000 children total during the pandemic, equating to $1.13 billion to support our local economies/local grocers.
    • Continue to accept federal funds for P-EBT as a replacement for school meals when children are unable to be in the classroom or child care centers.
    • Allow CHFS to continue requesting SNAP Emergency Allotments, which provides more funding for food to 500,000 low-wage workers and Kentucky families from month to month.
    • Put in place the administrative authority for the executive branch to distribute these relief funds to Kentuckians to eliminate any further delay of these benefits.
  • Protect Kentucky’s overwhelmed healthcare systems from shutting down to ensure all Kentuckians get the care they need when they need it.
    • Allow CHFS to flexibly apply safety protocols to Kentucky’s long-term care, healthcare and correctional facilities related to visitation of residents.
    • Reinstate emergency authorizations for all healthcare professional licensure boards to allow out-of-state professionals to practice in Kentucky and temporarily remove barriers to licensure and practice for much-needed Kentucky healthcare providers.
    • Keep state of emergency orders in place so that FEMA relief money can be utilized and clinician orders, insurance barriers and established clinical relationships requirements can be minimized to support community-based COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites.
    • Maintain all prescribing, telehealth, and home health flexibilities, allowing providers to waive certain state and federal requirements until the current public health emergency subsides.
    • With the increased call volume to emergency hotlines and crisis call centers, prioritize additional funding for Comprehensive Mental Health Centers (CMHC) and other areas where staff shortages are creating operational challenges.
  • Protect Kentuckians from eviction, utility cut-offs, and price gouging during current and future pandemics in order to save lives, promote economic security, and prevent unnecessary homelessness.
    • Prohibit utilities from ending payment plans already in place, reinstating late fees and/or disconnecting services to Kentuckians in the middle of winter.
    • Require landlords to include information about available assistance with notices of non-payment or eviction.
    • Require Court Clerks to provide Healthy at Home funds information.
    • Keep price-gouging orders in place to protect all consumers from corporate greed in the form of price-gouging on gasoline, fuel, prescriptions, food, and other goods.
  • Protect Kentucky’s economic recovery from current and future surges of COVID-19 by supporting struggling employers and workers.
    • Do not penalize struggling Kentucky businesses who are behind on unpaid unemployment employer contributions. Continue to suspend these interest rate applications and other penalties.
    • Extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for small business owners, contractors, and gig workers who live in work counties with high infection rates of COVID-19.
    • Expand the ability of the Labor Cabinet to waive UI overpayments for the duration of the public health emergency.
    • Continue to waive the waiting week.
    • Consider the following reason to qualify as “good cause” for unemployment benefits: infection with COVID-19, quarantine for exposure to COVID-19 or caring for a family member with COVID-19. The cost of those benefits should be charged to the pooled account, rather than an employer’s account.

We appreciate the enormity of the task before you and hope that these recommendations are of help. We are happy to provide further information regarding the recommendations or other resources and stand ready to be of assistance to you all in any way that we can.

We know that you will step forward to take actions that protect the health and wellbeing of all Kentuckians, while supporting our economic recovery and educational institutions in these difficult times.

Sincerely,

Aaron K. Jonan Memorial Clinic

ACLU of Kentucky

Advocacy Action Network

American Academy of Pediatrics – Kentucky Chapter

Americana World Community Center

Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center

The Arc

Asthma & Allergy Center – Pikeville-Hazard-Whitesburg

Black Lives Matter Louisville

Brain Injury Association of America – Kentucky Chapter

Cairn Guidance

Catholic Action Center

Community Connections

Different Abilities of South Central Kentucky

Each One Teach One

Fairness Campaign

Family & Children’s Place

Feeding Kentucky

Food in Neighborhoods

Forward Kentucky

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky

Four Rivers Indivisible

Healthy Reentry Coalition of Kentucky

Homeless & Housing Coalition of Kentucky

Hood to the Holler

IBEW Local 369

Jefferson County Teachers Association

Kennedy Individualized Community Services

Kentuckians for Health Care Reform

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth

Kentucky 120 United – AFT

Kentucky Association for Psychology in the Schools

Kentucky Association for School Social Work

Kentucky Association of Regional Programs

Kentucky Center for Economic Policy

Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Kentucky Council of Churches

Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling

Kentucky Education Association

Kentucky Equal Justice Center

Kentucky Health Departments Association

Kentucky Medicaid Consortium

Kentucky Mental Health Coalition

Kentucky Nonprofit Network

Kentucky Nurses Association

Kentucky Primary Care Association

Kentucky Psychological Association

Kentucky State Building & Construction Trades AFL-CIO

Kentucky Voices for Health

League of Women Voters

Louisville Family Justice Advocates

Louisville Housing Committee

Maryhurst

Matthew 25 AIDS Services

Mental Health America of Kentucky

Mission Behind Bars and Beyond

NAACP Kentucky State Conference

NAMI – Lexington

NAMI – Northern Kentucky

National Association of Social Workers – Kentucky Chapter

Olive Branch Ministries

Participation Station

Pediatric Associates of Hazard

Pediatric Associates of Pikeville

Pediatrics Behavioral and Mental Health Alliance of Kentucky

People Advocating Recovery

Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates – Kentucky

The Prichard Committee

The Prisoners of Hope

Progress Kentucky

Red River Health Care (Stanton)

River Valley Behavioral Health

Salyersville Medical Center

Smart Justice Advocates

United 874K Disabilities Coalition

United We Stand Cincinnati

The Women’s Network

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