Mask battle lines being drawn as Kentucky special session looms

Published 10:22 pm Tuesday, August 31, 2021

With Kentucky Republicans suddenly in charge of deciding how the state will respond to the surging COVID-19 pandemic, a prominent lawmaker is hinting at one policy direction: decisions about mask mandates are best left to local officials.

Senate President Pro Tem David Givens mentioned that approach as GOP lawmakers consider possible actions to be considered in an anticipated special legislative session. It also puts them in direct conflict with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who holds sole authority for calling such a session. Beshear said Monday he wants to see a “general consensus” on the path forward before making that call. On masking policy that could prove elusive.

“Universal masking in our schools is a must or we will get even worse from here,” Beshear said on social media Tuesday, while also urging people to mask up when indoors and away from home.

For more than a year, the governor unilaterally set virus policies in Kentucky. But the state Supreme Court recently shifted those decisions to the legislature. The court cleared the way for new laws to limit the governor’s emergency powers, which he used to impose virus-related restrictions.

If they are reconvened, lawmakers will be prepared to review the governor’s emergency actions to decide which ones to extend, alter or discontinue, House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade said Monday evening on the Kentucky Educational Television network.

As for mask-wearing policies, Givens predicted the GOP-dominated legislature would opt for local decision-making over a blanket statewide approach.

“I don’t think you’re going to see the General Assembly excited about mandating for or against lots of things,” Givens said on KET. “You’re going to see us drive it to local control.”

That includes lawmakers not stepping in to ban local mask mandates. On that subject, Givens said: “I have no sense that we’re going to go that far.”