Masks Mandates Discarded As Kentucky Special Session Wraps Up

The legislative special session wrapped up late last evening, possibly leaving Kentuckians more vulnerable to COVID than they were before. 

Lawmakers passed two bills targeting mask mandates: One discards the universal masking rule, set by the Kentucky Board of Education, in Kentucky schools. The other will prevent Gov. Andy Beshear from creating any further mask mandates until 2023.

Beshear vetoed those line items in the bills last night, but the Republican supermajority overruled his vetoes. 

In public remarks on Senate Bill 1, the legislation nixing Kentucky’s school mask mandate, state Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville said, “If we allow districts to take the masks off, COVID will spread, cases will rise, hospitals will fill, and more people will unnecessarily die.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend universal masking in schools. 

Proponents of the bill said it was about giving school districts flexibility. These districts can now choose whether or not to require masks. Prior to the mandate, two-thirds of Kentucky schools were planning to open without requiring masks, according to WFPL. In July, JCPS’ school board approved a mask mandate.

SB 1 also contained provisions to give school districts other options in fighting COVID-19, but they weren’t passed without critiques either. 

Senate Bill 1 gives school districts 20 days to move individual schools, classes, grades or individuals to remote learning. This adds to the 10 NTI days that Kentucky school districts already had to use in the event of COVID-related school closings. The 20 additional days are per district, whether it has one school or 167, like JCPS. 

Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, attempted to pass an amendment that would allow 20 extra remote learning days per school building, saying on Twitter that the bill as is gave “significantly less flexibility to larger districts,” but her bid failed. 

The passed bill does allow districts to add time to the school day in order to make up missed days.

SB1 also instructs the Kentucky Department for Public Health to create a “test to stay” program, which would allow students and staff who have been exposed to COVID-19 to stay in school as long as they test negative for the virus. And it eases restrictions on getting substitute and retired teachers into classrooms.

Senate Bill 2, the legislation stopping Beshear from creating further mask mandates, also contained provisions directing the state to create more monoclonal antibody treatment centers and to expand testing and vaccine capacity.

Other Bills That Passed This Session:

Senate Bill 3 – Sets aside $69.2 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for pandemic response. The legislation encourages the money to be spent on the monoclonal antibody treatment centers and “test to stay” program mentioned in SB 1.

Senate Bill 5 – Diverts $410 million from the state rainy day fund to give to companies willing to invest at least $2 billion in the state. The legislation mentions a site in Hardin County.

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