Kentucky Republicans are supposed to be using the special legislation session, which started today, to help the state as it continues to struggle with COVID-19.
But, while they’re doing some of the things Gov. Andy Beshear wanted them to, they’re also going off script.
Today, lawmakers started the approval process for bills that would ban all statewide mask mandates and end universal masking in schools.
Some of them also spewed serious COVID-19 vaccine misinformation while speaking publicly.
All this happened as Beshear announced the highest weekly COVID-19 case increase since the pandemic started: over 30,000 new cases were reported in the state last week.
Kentucky’s lawmakers did listen to Beshear in some ways: The General Assembly passed a bill that would extend some of Gov. Beshear’s executive orders, including those that would grant temporary disability to those exposed to COVID-19 at work and another that waives health insurance costs for COVID-19 screening, testing and immunizations.
Beshear was happy about this. At his daily press conference he said, “I think about 95% of the belt and suspenders were in there and was passed, and I think it shows that the House is serious in doing the work. That bill was very collaborative in how it went through.”
But, he presented recommendations from CDC saying that universal masking in schools is the way to go, rather than limiting mask requirements.
“If you’re in a red county, and all sudden you take off masks, ‘Oh my goodness right?’” said Beshear. “I mean you’re in the thick of it, you’re in what is crisis mode and suddenly we would take a tool away that is there. So, surely, we should at least be able to get to a point where, orange or red, they can either say masking at that point is required, or they can give authority to myself, they can give authority to the [education] commissioner.”
House Bill 2 would stop Beshear from issuing a “blanket mask mandate” and would instead let local governments and businesses make masking decisions.
Kentucky lawmakers also debated Senate Bill 1 today, which would strike the Kentucky Board of Education’s universal masking order for schools. Instead, districts would be able to decide whether or not to require masks.
During the Senate Education committee meeting, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said, “I have full faith that they’re going to make the right decision.”
Nevermind that, according to WFPL, most of Kentucky’s school districts were going to make masking optional, before the state government stepped in.
At the education committee meeting, lawmakers also discussed giving each district 20 extra “remote instruction” days to schools in addition to the 10 NTI days already allotted to each district. The remote working days could be applied to a class, group of students, grade or school but not an entire district.
Vaccine mandates are off the table for Kentucky Republicans, so the legislature also took up a bill that would allocate $69.2 million in American Rescue Plan funds for other COVID-19 prevention efforts, including 15 monoclonal antibody treatment centers in Kentucky’s development districts.
Beshear said in his news conference that he supported moncolonal antibody treatments, but he worried about the state establishing its own clinics, which might require hiring medical staff when there is a shortage.
The bill also would invest in a “test to stay” program for Kentucky schools, which would allow students and staff who were exposed to COVID-19 to stay in school as long as they tested negative for COVID-19.
House Bill 2 would also direct Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services to develop a plan on how to increase the distribution of COVID vaccines in primary care facilities.
But, some Kentucky Republicans undermined vaccination efforts by casting doubt on them.
In a committee meeting, Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, said that the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t safe, and he claimed that the FDA hasn’t approved the Pfizer vaccine. Reps. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg and Ryan Dotson, R-Winchester, said that 7,000 people have died from taking the vaccine.
In case you need the fact check, the FDA did approve the Pfizer vaccine; they’re just marketing it under a different name.
COVID-19 vaccines on the market very rarely have adverse side effects. Tate and Dotson were citing the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting Systems as evidence for vaccine-related deaths. VAERS is a federally-managed database for citizens to self-report vaccine side effects. Reports to VAERS are unverified and may not be accurate, according to the CDC.
“To date, VAERS has not detected patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines,” says the CDC.
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