Welcome to our coverage of the special session of the KY General Assembly, as called by Governor Beshear. We'll be doing an email each night summarizing what happened that day, and sharing what we know about what is coming the next day.
One of the first challenges we've faced is what to call this thing. Regular sessions are pretty simple — KYGA21, for example — but putting "special session" on it raises an interesting problem. Do we really want to call it KY GASS? 😄
Another problem is how much to include. This newsletter is pretty long, but I wanted to give you some important info so you could compare it to what actually happens. The length of subsequent emails will be determine by what happens that day in public, and what we can learn about what happens in private.
You probably know all the background basics: the Gov issued various orders and such because of the pandemic, the General Assembly (esp the Repubs) got mad about it, they passed some laws this spring restricting the Gov's ability to use executive authority on his own, and the SCOKY upheld the laws just recently. So, rather than see the state roll over and give up to COVID, the Gov and the lege leadership met to decide what to include in a called session. How much they are able to agree on remains to be seen.
The call for the session
Governor Beshear issued his call for a special session on Saturday, 9/4, with the special session to begin Tuesday, 9/6, at 10 AM. Here is what the call asks the lawmakers to do:
- Extend the pandemic state of emergency until Jan. 15, 2022
- Set forth criteria for Gov’s authority to require masks indoors in certain circumstances during the pandemic state of emergency
- Extend some or all of SB 5 (2021 reg session – deals with immunity) for the duration of the pandemic state of emergency
- Extend some or all of SB 150 (2020 reg session – deals with health insurance) for the duration of the pandemic state of emergency
- Approve a number of provisions for schools
- Provide additional flexibility for school districts to use alternatives to in-person instruction
- Provide funding stability to school districts for 2022-2023 school year
- Provide additional sick leave days to eligible staff members
- Reimburse school districts for the cost of the additional sick leave, and appropriate the monies for it
- Provide additional staffing support by determining circunstances under which retired teachers and student teachers can provide instruction
- Make an appropriation from ARPA funds for mitigation and prevention activities (about 20 different activities listed)
- Extend by 30 days the state of emergency for Nicholas County and City of Carlisle due to flash flooding
- Approve various orders that would have expired or are currently in effect to remain in effect until expiration of the pandemic state of emergency
- Provide additional flexibility for the manner in which incentives can be provided to economic development projects with more than $2 billion in investment, which would constitute the largest in Kentucky’s history. The Cabinet for Economic Development currently is pursuing at least five projects of this size, and the changes would allow Kentucky to be competitive with other states
You can read the entire proclamation here.
Asks of the special session from outside groups
A number of groups across the Commonwealth have their own agenda for the special session, including KY 120 United, KY Youth Advocates, and KY Voices for Health. Here are some of those asks.
Asks from KY 120 United
- We must have flexible NTI days for each school and district in order to address outbreaks at the local level quickly and effectively.
- A hybrid option must be available so that proper spacing for social distancing can be achieved in each classroom to reduce virus spread and quarantines.
- ADA (average daily attendance) should reference data from the 2018-2019 academic year for funding purposes.
- KPREP accountability must be removed for this academic year.
- Instructional time must be based on number of hours, not days.
- All vaccinated school employees must be granted additional COVID sick days due to illness and quarantine. This must be done due to the hazardous working conditions we are being placed in.
- Virtual learning programs and designated virtual teachers should be mandated for every district. We simply cannot allow educators to work multiple jobs.
- Waivers are needed so that additional substitutes can be hired, such as student teachers or recent retirees.
- Covid testing should be readily available and easily accessible to any employee who needs one at their job site.
- The emergency statewide mask mandate from the Kentucky Board of Education must be upheld.
- District level COVID "dashboards" must be accurate and available to the general public in order to get an accurate picture of cases and quarantines in our schools.
- District level quarantine procedures must be made transparent to all staff and must be consistent and follow the guidance of science.
- District level cleaning protocols must be put into place that is consistent and takes every precaution to reduce spread.
Asks from KY Youth Advocates
- Build a rubric for masking in schools.
- Consider the emerging best practices to keep students healthy and learning – such as "Test and Stay."
- Understand that non-traditional instruction cannot replace in-person schooling but is a vital necessity in moving ahead.
- Ensure that the K-12 accountability and assessment system carries the context of another unusual school year.
- Utilize existing tools to assess student emotional and behavioral health.
- Make quarantines and shutdowns school-based and not district-based.
- Create a transparent and consistently updated dashboard around pandemic data on a school-by-school basis.
- Strengthen child welfare system operations so our most vulnerable don’t fall through the cracks.
- Utilize every available dollar to support Kentucky’s struggling child care sector.
Asks from KY Voices for Health and 37 other organizations
The most extensive list of asks came from a coalition of 38 organizations from across the Commonwealth, led by KY Voices for Health. The list contains 33 detailed actions the signees would like KYGA to take. Many of the actions deal with working people, the poor, children, and the incarcerated – groups that are not really addressed in everyday discussions of the special session.
To save space, we are not including the entire list, but you can read it here.
Tomorrow's special session calendar
How to watch
KET Live Feeds – https://www.ket.org/legislature/
LRC Committee Meetings – ttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmnoJBrwFmd7JK0HA9KcPaw
Interesting notes, quotes, and tweets
(The items below come from stories by KY Health News; you should read their site for excellent coverage of health issues in Kentucky, including the special session.)
➤ "When it comes to misinformation, I really don't think this is a red-versus-blue issue. It is a fact-or-fiction, or sometimes a sane-versus-insane issue. . . . Taking a horse dewormer is crazy under any circumstance." – Governor Beshear
➤ Beshear said he and legislative leaders have agreed on how to approach many issues, but not on the one that may be the most critical and divisive: power to require face coverings to prevent spread of the coronavirus. The governor said he doesn't expect legislators to give him general authority to require masking, but hopes they will let him impose mask mandates in counties with a certain level of infection, as shown on the state's color-coded map.
➤ Beshear said he does not expect the session to last longer than five days, ending Saturday. He said his understanding of the Supreme Court ruling is that it becomes final at midnight Friday night. Five days is the minimum length of a session that enacts laws, unless the legislature suspends the state constitution's rule that bills be read in each chamber three times on separate days.
➤ "We've got to start finding out how are we going to address the immediate crisis, which is our unvaccinated patients who are acutely ill and require hospitalization or acute treatment of an active infection," said Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare committee.
➤ As Kentucky lawmakers gear up for a special session to take over management of the pandemic, under a court ruling that upheld laws to limit the governor's emergency powers, two of their priorities are how to keep students in the classroom and how keep young children in day-care centers safe.
➤ Green County School Supt. Will Hodges told Wise's panel that the district's "test to stay" program allows students who are known to be exposed at school to remain in the classroom if a parent or guardian allows them to be tested for six consecutive days, with allowances for the weekend, and if all tests are negative. Hodges said 159 students have participated in the program, and 146 of them remained negative and stayed in school -- a 92% success rate, and a sign that the virus is not spreading in the school. He said only 5% of the district's students have needed to quarantine and fewer than 2% have tested positive.
➤ Eric Kennedy, director of advocacy for the Kentucky School Boards Association, told Wise's committee that "the number one" driver of school closures has been staff shortages, not student virus cases. "The most immediate direct thing that can help us with the quarantine issue that's exacerbating our [staffing] shortage would be if more folks would get vaccinated," Kennedy said. School employees who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus and have no symptoms, according to state guidance.
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