Kentucky governor slams GOP-led Legislature for eliminating school mask mandate

Published 9:37 pm Friday, September 10, 2021

Kentucky lawmakers grabbed the quarterback role to direct the response to COVID-19, but when it came time to lead, the GOP-led legislature “punted” the decision on mask-wearing in schools to local boards, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said Friday.

A day after a special legislative session ended, Beshear gave a blistering response to the legislature’s decision to halt statewide mask mandates to combat Kentucky’s worst surge of the coronavirus pandemic. He declared that the legislature “owns this pandemic moving forward.”

The legislature passed bills Thursday that scrapped a statewide mask mandate for public schools and imposed a ban on any statewide mask rules until June 2023. Beshear vetoed the mask-related language but Republican lawmakers overrode him before ending their three-day session.

Beshear used the football analogy to slam the legislature’s actions, especially in nullifying the state school board’s requirement that anyone in public K-12 schools wear a mask. The Republican-backed measure shifted masking decisions to local school boards.

“The masking decision the General Assembly made was wrong. And it was also a punt,” Beshear told reporters. “I’ve been willing to make the calls, to take the hits, to make the plays. And the legislature asked to go in … at QB. And what did they do? They punted on first down. When you’re in charge, it means you’ve got to make the decision. This one was to push the decision to others.”

The governor said he would have ordered mask-wearing in indoor public places if he still had the authority to do so. The special session marked a power shift in the state’s response to the virus.

Republican lawmakers asserted their new dominance in setting Kentucky’s pandemic policies — the result of a state Supreme Court ruling last month. The court cleared the way for GOP-backed laws to take effect limiting the governor’s emergency powers to impose virus restrictions. The governor responded by calling the legislature into session.