Kentucky lawmakers OK virus liability shield for businesses

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.

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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