Can we all agree that priorities for the 2020 global pandemic must be:
1. Saving lives
2. Rescuing the economy so people keep their jobs, can find work and not lose their homes and savings
3. And everything else necessary to return Kentucky and the nation to some semblance of normalcy.
Gov. Andy Beshear gets it.
Kentucky Republicans don’t.
Republicans in the General Assembly still think their legislative agenda matters — once again reaffirming them as the party of quasi-science, quasi-expertise and intolerance. Unfortunately for them, this pandemic forces them to face two unavoidable realities: science-based health advice and time.
Apparently upset that the coronavirus is getting in the way of his plans, Republican Speaker of the House David Osborne proposed a bill to change the state constitution to make sure the GOP has time to pass its conservative wish list. More on that in a moment.
The legislature has until April 15 to pass a two-year budget, otherwise the government shuts down and the state adds another crisis on top of the global pandemic. Because the Senate’s budget has significant differences from the budget passed by the House — $500 million less for funding the teachers’ pension fund — there is serious work left to resolve the differences.
Three weeks normally should be enough time to address their differences and other legislation. Yet, in this particular global crisis, the experts are advising that everyone practice social distancing and stay at home if possible. That includes legislators.
But there they were, traveling to Frankfort, gathering for meetings, hearings or votes on issues not related to the coronavirus or the budget. Beshear declared a state of emergency March 6, after the first case of coronavirus was reported in Kentucky. Four days later, the Republicans in the House passed two abortion bills (HB 67 and HB 145).
On March 17, Beshear closed the Capitol to the public to prevent large crowds and meetings — following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Republicans continued to meet, hold hearings and votes. After all, they had to address serious issues facing distillery gift shops (SB 99) and “shampoo and style services” (SB 177) later that week.
Because Beshear gets it, he and Democratic leadership have implored Republican lawmakers to focus solely on passing the budget and any coronavirus-related emergency relief bills, and to abandon all other, non-essential legislative work. Only on March 19, after a day of regular business, including votes, did Republican leadership — an oxymoron if ever there was one — announce that it was amending the schedule to adjourn for one week.
Because the Republicans still have a lot of “critical” bills to pass, Osborne requested that Beshear agree to an open-ended special session beyond the session’s last day to address the remaining legislation. Beshear refused.
In response, Osborn introduced a bill to amend the constitution to allow the legislature to call its own special legislative session (HB 647) — a power only the governor has. (What is even more ridiculous is that such a bill, if it were to pass, would ultimately have to go before voters …in the fall!)
So, while Kentuckians rally around Beshear and each other, Republicans are hard at work trying to change the constitution, so that they can pass divisive, ideological legislation. One such bill is the voter ID bill, SB 2, which passed in the Senate on March 19. If it became law, it would mean Kentuckians without government-issued photo IDs, such as a driver’s license, would be forced to go to a county clerks office to get a photo ID if they want to vote.
When asked if he would sign SB 2, if passed, Beshear responded, “Think about the world we’re living in right now. Our clerks offices are closed. How somebody would go in and get an ID right now in the middle of a healthcare crisis, and that be dependent on them voting … that’s a little silly.”
Not all of the Republican leadership is oblivious and Machiavellian. Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams has indicated he is willing to consider mail-in ballots.
To be fair, Beshear’s refusal to concede a special session to Republicans may be a politically strong move because it stifles their bills for now. But it’s not motivated by politics — don’t be so cynical. Democrats have a long list of their own bills and even Republican bills they would love to see at least get a vote: medical marijuana, legalized sports betting and direct shipment of wine for god’s sake!
… but none of that matters right now.
As Beshear said of SB 2, “Our world has changed since this bill was filed. It would be nice if our General Assembly acted like the world had changed.” •