By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s governor signaled Monday that he wants to convene a special legislative session to deal with COVID-19 issues once a “general consensus” is reached on what can be achieved.
Gov. Andy Beshear said the special session needs to happen soon in part to maintain the state of emergency he declared at the outset of the pandemic in Kentucky. And there are pressing coronavirus-related issues stemming from school closures due to surging outbreaks, he said.
“My goal is to call a special session as soon as legislative leaders have reached a general consensus about what they think can be done,” the governor said at a news conference.
Beshear quickly added: “I’m sure I will push for some other things as well.”
The governor has the authority to call lawmakers into special session and to set the agenda.
Beshear, a Democrat, has had discussions with leaders of the Republican-led legislature over what actions could be taken if lawmakers are brought back to the statehouse. Those negotiations come as Kentucky suffers its worst surge of virus cases and hospitalizations since the pandemic began.
Various emergency measures previously issued by Beshear are set to expire as a result of a recent landmark court decision. It’s up to lawmakers to decide whether to keep them in place.
The state’s Supreme Court recently gave lawmakers the upper hand when it cleared the way for new laws to limit the governor’s emergency powers, which he used to impose virus-related restrictions previously. The justices said a lower court wrongly blocked the GOP-backed measures.
Kentucky had more new cases of COVID-19 last week than any other week in the pandemic, and on Monday reported another record number of virus patients hospitalized in Kentucky. The highly contagious delta variant is spreading fastest among school-age Kentuckians, the governor said.
New media outlets reported Monday that at least 18 Kentucky schools districts have closed or returned to virtual learning already this academic year.
To prevent lapses in learning, schools forced to close need to switch to nontraditional instructional days with students learning from home, Beshear said Monday. Currently, the state can waive up to 10 so-called NTI days to count toward student attendance days in the school districts’ calendars.
Districts need more flexibility as they cope with COVID-19, the governor said. That should include giving them more NTI days and allowing them to apply those days to individual schools, he said.
“With this many schools that have had to pause, they need more tools and more options,” he said.
Throughout the pandemic, the governor imposed COVID-related restrictions to combat the virus’s spread, and he credits his actions with saving lives. But he said Monday he’s “realistic” as he negotiates with GOP legislative leaders, given the new dynamics as a result of the court ruling.
“I’m going to seek all the tools that I can,” Beshear said. “I’m not going to hold off on calling a special session if I don’t get all of them.”
Later, the governor acknowledged: “I know I’m not going to get all the tools that I think we need. But I’ll do the best I can with the best I get.”