Wednesday, March 17, 2021

General Assembly sends a resolution on emergency orders and several other pandemic-related bills to the governor

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The General Assembly has sent Gov. Andy Beshear a list which of Covid-19 emergency orders should stay in place if the legislature wins its legal battle over the governor's emergency powers.

House Speaker David Osborne
(Legislative Research Commission photo)
Acknowledging that Franklin Circuit Court had temporarily blocked three laws that would limit those powers, and there has been "frustration with some of those executive orders," House Speaker David Osborne told the House, "There are some very good executive orders that have been issued that are beneficial to businesses, whether it be extending continuing education requirements, waiving penalties and interest on businesses that have been shut down, price gouging, waiving co-pays on vaccines on testing, things that are actually important to our businesses and individuals around the state."

The list of nearly 60 emergency orders and regulations supported by the resolution does not include two key public-health measures that are proven to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus: the mandate to wear face coverings indoors, and capacity limits at restaurants and businesses. 

House Democratic Leader Joni Jenkins of Shively asked Osborne why, "given that experts and scientists have told us that the best way to defeat this pandemic is by mask wearing and social distancing." 

Osborne replied, "These are orders that are not all encompassing. Acknowledging that we have no idea when the courts will decide the the fates of Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 1, these were things that we chose to extend regardless of what those findings were." 

The three bills had emergency clauses and were enacted into law over Beshear vetoes, but Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd issued a temporary injunction preventing them from taking effect.

The new legislation is in a joint resolution, which carries the weight of law, but is not codified into statute. Emergency orders not included in the resolution would immediately expire if the Republican lawmakers win the pending litigation. 

The House agreed to the Senate's changes to House Joint Resolution 77, which would allow certain orders that were set to expire on March 4 to expire 90 days from the effective day of the Act. The House's version allowed only 60 days. 

The resolution also includes a list of regulations that would expire 30 days from the effective date of the law, to allow time for issuing replacements pending the fate of SB 2, which sets new rules for emergency regulations. 

The resolution would prohibit Beshear from declaring a new state of emergency or to continue to implement any of the emergency orders if they are based upon the same facts and circumstances as the original coronavirus pandemic declaration was made without prior approval of the General Assembly. 

Asked what would prompt a new executive order, Osborne said if there could be a "huge surge" of cases or an unknown variant that could cause a significant change in circumstances.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature have not appealed Shepherd's ruling, but if he or a higher court ultimately rules in their favor, the bill could prevent a special legislative session.

The House did not pass Senate President Robert Stivers' SB 5 to shield businesses from pandemic-related lawsuits. It could still pass in the March 29-30 veto session, but Beshear could veto it without fear of being overridden, so it could be amended to suit him.

Other pandemic-related bills

The General Assembly sent Beshear several health-related bills that were prompted by the pandemic.  

Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, would allow adults, emancipated minors and parents making decisions for children to opt out of mandatory vaccines in an epidemic for medical reasons, religious grounds or a  "conscientiously held belief."  

The bill does not change any current school immunization requirements, which allow exemptions for medical or religious reasons only, nor does it impact any workplace requirements. The Beshear administration has said it has no plans to mandate vaccinations in the pandemic.

House Bill 140, sponsored by Rep. Deanna Frazier, R-Richmond, would permit telehealth services that were allowed to expand due to the pandemic to remain in place after it ends. A key part of the bill would continue to allow audio-only visits, which is important because the state has many places without high-speed internet and many patients who are not adept at using technology.

HB 276, sponsored by Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, would allow Kentuckians trained as temporary Covid-19 personal care attendants under an executive order to apply their supervised training toward their Registered Nurse Aide certification. 

The bill also requires the Department for Medicaid Services to accept the employment of temporary Covid-19 personal-care attendants as meeting training requirements for nurse aides if they have worked a minimum of 80 hours in a skilled nursing facility under the supervision of a licensed or registered nurse, have established competency, and have successfully completed the nurse-aide exam. 

About 300 personal-care attendants are working in Kentucky long-term care facilities, Moser said while presenting the bill to the House in February. 

SB 154, by Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, would allow advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants to prescribe and supervise home-health services. During the pandemic, federal law has allowed APRNs and PAs that authority. An emergency clause ensures there would be no gap in care if the federal rule ended.

SB 148, by Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, would prevent Beshear from reducing capacity at child-care centers below what was allowed before the pandemic. Carroll operates such a center. Beshear said Monday that the centers were allowed to return to normal class sizes. The facilities have been asked to follow a set of guidelines to ensure the safety of the children and staff. 

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