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Senator Max Wise: Special Session wrap-up
By Senator Max Wise
The Kentucky General Assembly utilized its authority to shape the state's response to the pandemic during a three-day special session ending just before midnight on Thursday, September 9. Upon the Governor's call for a session, we passed bills in both the House and Senate dealing with many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Republican supermajorities took a balanced approach by focusing on public health, individual liberties, and localized control.
Recently, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that a lower court incorrectly blocked laws passed during the 2021 Regular Session reigning in the executive authority regarding emergency powers. After a long and grueling effort to ensure the representative branch of government's duly elected members had a seat at the table, that need has finally been realized.
With that, the legislature used this special session to extend some emergency executive actions and eliminate others. New COVID-19 mitigation strategies were also considered to provide relief to institutions strained by the pandemic, including schools, hospitals, businesses, and nursing homes.
First, as Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, it was important to me that we get our COVID-19 response concerning the operation of our school system correct.
Too often in the past, local school leader's efforts and abilities have been undermined and taken for granted. We all know that nobody loves their children more than their families, and the same is true for those trusted with the responsibility to care for their education.
Despite disagreements on some provisions, there was a strong collaboration in crafting a holistic education policy. I was honored that both Senate and House leadership, along with my colleagues, entrusted me to be the primary sponsor and legislative advocate for Senate Bill 1.
Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) prioritizes in-person learning, and helps to provides school districts financial flexibility as well as address staffing challenges, in a health-conscience manner. Additionally, SB 1 reaffirmed that there would be no statewide mask mandate implemented, but instead would leave that decision to be determined at the local level.
In an effort to ensure more students remain in in the classroom, the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) would develop a "test-to-stay" model for school districts to minimize quarantining for non-symptomatic students and staff. This legislation requires the DPH to assist local school districts in implementing their board-approved COVID-19 plans, whether they concern a test-to-stay method, masking guidelines, contact tracing, or quarantining.
We consulted with the Governors' office and the Kentucky Department of Education and have allowed up to 20 days of remote instruction under SB 1. Remote instruction is not to be mistaken for Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI), as this is only permissible for a classroom or school, not an entire district. The intent is to allow room for a targeted learning experience in the event of virus exposure, as teachers would still be required to teach from their regular classrooms, unlike NTI protocol.
In light of critical staffing shortages, this legislation will make it easier for retired teachers to return to the classroom, in some cases as soon as 30 days after retiring. It also provides temporary revisions for the hiring of substitute teachers, background checks, and school schedules.
Senate Bill 2 concerns one of the most heartbreaking parts of the pandemic and establishes safety protocols for loved ones to visit family members in long-term care facilities. This bill defines criteria for a family or friend to be designated as an essential, compassionate caregiver. SB 2 takes a much-needed alternative approach to dealing with the health impacts of COVID-19 by better encouraging vaccinations, increasing testing capabilities, and promoting proven treatments such as monoclonal antibody treatment (Regeneron) and expanding access to it throughout 15 different regions of the state.
A provision to SB 2 provides assistance for health care providers, jails, prisons, homeless shelters, and local health departments in acquiring COVID-19 tests. Another will allow paramedics to work in hospitals to relieve a nursing shortage. Much of the state's reported shortage of hospital beds is primarily a result of an existing problem of personnel shortages that COVID-19 has only exacerbated. More attention to this has been needed throughout the pandemic, and SB 2 aims to address this.
Senate Bill 3 will redirect more than $69 million from State Fiscal Recovery Funds to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health & Family Services. The money was left over from the repayment of a federal loan to Kentucky's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund that was taken out to cover a surge of pandemic-related unemployment claims. The money will help health care providers, schools, and others implement provisions of SB 1 and SB 2. These include purchasing COVID-19 tests, establishing regional monoclonal antibody treatment centers, and test-to-stay programs in schools.
Senate Bill 5 is an economic development incentive bill that applies to projects over $2 billion. It will utilize existing programs and build on the economic successes of policies implemented by the Kentucky General Assembly since 2016.
Under SB 5, incentives will not be provided upfront but instead paid out over time to ensure any project meets the required job and wage targets. Some incentives will be in the form of forgivable loans.
The Governor vetoed some bills with line item provisions, but the legislature swiftly overrode them. These bills contained an emergency clause, meaning they become law immediately upon the Governor's signature or filing with the Secretary of State's Office.
As a legislative body, it is our job to stabilize the system, and this new legislation is an attempt to do so. The General Assembly still faces serious budget and policy decisions in the upcoming 2022 Regular Session. Still, we will remain dedicated to finding the best legislative course of action for citizens across the Commonwealth as we continue to navigate this pandemic.
Thank you for your questions and concerns. I hope you will remain engaged with legislative happenings for the remainder of the interim by visiting www.legislature.ky.gov or www.KET.org/legislature. It is an honor to serve you in Frankfort.
Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) represents Kentucky's 16th Senate District which encompasses Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor, and Wayne Counties. He is co-chairman of the Interim Joint Committee on Education; as well as co-chairman of the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee. He also serves as a member of the Interim Joint Committees on Agriculture; Health, Welfare, and Family Services; Transportation; and is a liaison member on the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation. Additionally, Senator Wise is a member of the School Funding Task Force.
This story was posted on 2021-09-16 16:40:43
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