Virus Outbreak Kentucky

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks about the increases in COVID-19 cases in the state and the opening day of the Kentucky State Legislature special session in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

FRANKFORT, Ky. - A key coronavirus-related bill had a bumpy reception Wednesday but ultimately advanced. The measure, which would set pandemic policies for K-12 schools, was rejected initially by the House Education Committee, coming up one vote short of the support needed.

The panel reconvened later in the day and overwhelmingly advanced the legislation. Some lawmakers said they voted for the bill to get it out of committee but signaled they'd like to see changes made. A companion measure is awaiting action in the Senate. Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in both chambers.

The bills would nullify statewide mask mandates in K-12 schools and child care facilities. Both would allow local school leaders to apply remote instruction to a particular school, grade or classroom, depending on the extent of a virus outbreak, rather than closing schools districtwide.

State Education Commissioner Jason Glass has urged lawmakers to follow public health science supporting use of masks in schools, as he said the state school board did in issuing its emergency regulation requiring mask wearing in public schools. The bills would end that requirement.

“The politically motivated effort to remove masking requirements in public schools flies in the face of virus mitigation efforts at the very time they are needed most,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Supporters of lifting the statewide mandate said mask policies should be determined by local school boards in consultation with health officials.

Kentucky has been hit a record wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, driven by the fast-spreading delta variant. Children have made up a large number of new virus infections. Kentucky’s coronavirus-related death toll has surpassed 7,930.

More virus-related bills were heard in committees Wednesday, setting the stage for later action in the House and Senate chambers. A recent state Supreme Court ruling shifted pandemic policymaking powers to the legislature, leading to the special session. The court allowed new laws to take effect limiting the governor’s emergency powers to unilaterally impose virus restrictions.

On Tuesday, lawmakers gave swift final approval to a measure extending the pandemic-related state of emergency until Jan. 15. Beshear quickly signed the measure. It extends a number of actions taken by the Democratic governor and his administration to combat COVID-19. Examples include waiving licensing requirements for out-of-state medical providers and preventing price gouging.

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