KVH Recap: Special Session to Address COVID-19 Weakens Protections for Kentuckians

Last week, the legislature held a three-day long Special Session to address COVID-19 in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling on August 21st. Following the Governor’s official call for the Special Session, Kentucky’s General Assembly convened at 10AM on September 7th, and the legislature completed their work and adjourned Sine Die just before midnight on Thursday, September 9th.

That Was Quick. What Passed?

Because the Kentucky General Assembly adopted new procedural rules that enable them to waive official readings of legislation, the “old standard” of a 5-day minimum Special Session in order for bills to complete the legislative process has changed and new precedents were made last week. The state legislature ended up passing four bills and one joint resolution in just 3-days time. Two of the bills that were enacted were initially vetoed by the Governor on Thursday, but the vetoes were overridden in the same day — a first for Kentucky’s Special Session history.

Ultimately, Kentucky’s public health state of emergency was extended until January 15, 2022 at which point another extension will need to be revisited, or, the public health emergency will then expire. The 2022 Regular Session will convene on January 4, 2022 so this January 15th deadline is well within the legislature’s regular business timeline to address once the deadline approaches.

Here’s a quick recap for the bills that passed and are now law:

  • HJR1: Addresses the state of emergency declaration and Governor’s executive orders
    • Extends the state’s public health emergency declaration until January 15, 2022
    • Extends most emergency executive orders issued by the Governor throughout the pandemic. Among the executive orders not extended include the statewide mask mandate, and capacity restrictions for businesses and event venues
  • SB1: Addresses schools/childcare facilities and future of mask mandates in schools/childcare facilities
    • Makes null and void all emergency regulations that mandated masks statewide for childcare facilities and schools.
    • Enables local school districts and childcare facilities to set their mask policies.
    • Increases temporary remote instruction days from 10 days to 20 days. These days can be used by school districts for a single class, or for an entire grade, school or school district, depending on the local need.
    • Creates a flexibility for school districts by adjusting the requirement of instructional ‘day’ use to allow for instructional ‘hour’ use.
    • Require local health departments to develop a “test to stay” model for their school districts to use instead of requiring quarantining when school children test positive or become ill. 
    • Temporarily revises the retired teacher/retired employee reemployment provisions until January 15, 2022 to assist in addressing teacher and school staff shortages.
    • Temporarily adjusts school funding provisions by associating funding to average daily attendance, allowing a school district to submit a school calendar plan to receive a waiver of 170 required student attendance days if 1,062 hours are achieved for the 2021-2022 school year.
  • SB2: Addresses vaccines, statewide mask mandates, COVID-19 testing and treatment of COVID-19
    • Cancels any statewide mask mandate until January 15, 2022, meaning, even if the Governor issues a statewide mask mandate, it is null and void.
    • Restricts additional administrative regulations related to statewide mask mandates until June 1, 2023.
    • Makes local jurisdictions (e.g. city or county government) and businesses responsible for mask mandate decisions that affect their community/place of business.
    • Requires the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) to produce public service announcements with information about the severe symptoms and effects of contracting COVID-19. CHFS must also develop a public awareness campaign encouraging Kentuckians to talk with their doctor about the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.
    • Requires CHFS to assist and support hospitals, licensed healthcare providers, jails, prisons, homeless shelters, and local health departments in acquiring COVID-19 test, developing a statewide distribution plan for COVID-19 test, and distributing for use all COVID-19 tests by October 1, 2021
    • Requires CHFS to develop, distribute to and equip with supplies and necessary drugs COVID-19 Antibody Administration Centers (CAACs). There will be at least one qualified provider in each of the state’s Area Development Districts, and CAACs will operate until January 31, 2022 at which point the legislature can determine their continued operation during the Regular Session.
    • Establishes safety protocols for compassionate care visitors in long-term care facilities should there be a future lockdown or restricted visitation periods in any LTC facility.
  • SB3: Addresses the state’s use of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for COVID-19 mitigation
    • Redirects $69 million unused dollars in ARPA funding to CHFS that had been previously allocated by the General Assembly to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and was not needed.
    • The $69 million in ARPA funding is to now be used by CHFS for the implementation needs of SB1 and SB2 (testing, “test to stay” programs, CAAC establishment and operation, etc.) and will ultimately assist healthcare providers, jails, schools, homeless shelters, local health departments, etc.
  • SB5: Addresses a prospective economic development project
    • Appropriates $410 million dollars as an incentive for an unnamed economic development project that may potentially establish headquarters in Hardin County, KY.
    • This was the only legislation passed not directly associated with COVID-19, however, it does potentially contribute to Kentucky’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

What Happens Next?

The 2021 Interim has resumed. Meetings that would have normally occurred last week and were interrupted by the Special Session have been rescheduled. Barring no unforeseen need for additional legislation, the Interim will run its course as we prepare for the 2022 Regular Session.

To stop the spread of COVID-19, local jurisdictions and school boards must now take action in order to adopt continued mask mandates for their respective districts. Also, due to the way Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) is calculated (based on style of attendance), there are concerns for how the new forms of remote instruction days will impact the delivery of these benefits moving forward.

The state will begin to make the steps necessary in order to establish new monoclonal clinics (15 to be created statewide), as well as adjust regulatory oversight in order to accommodate the changes made by the legislature. First responders, such as EMTs and firefighters, now have additional flexibility to assist in the state’s COVID-19 response, which will likely be welcomed given the shortage of nurses Kentucky is currently experiencing.

As COVID-19 cases surge to record-breaking levels across the Commonwealth, affecting the health of our children more than ever, KVH will continue to monitor developments with some of the concerns and new policies mentioned above. We will share updates as we learn more.

Thank You For Raising Your Voice!

Last week, we shared this sign-on letter from coalition partners and advocates who wanted to encourage legislators to adopt policies to keep Kentuckians safe, our children protected at school, and our economy strong. Many of you joined in this effort that resulted in 77 total organizational signatories. Thank you for advocating for Kentuckians during this troubling time!

To learn more about the author, visit: https://kyvoicesforhealth.org/our-team/.