FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s legislature will take a weeklong break in response to the new coronavirus outbreak as top lawmakers released an abbreviated schedule to finish work on the budget and other priorities.
As the Senate debated its version of the state’s next two-year spending plan, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne announced that lawmakers would adjourn after Thursday and reconvene on March 26.
Under the plan, lawmakers would meet again on April 1 with the goal of passing the budget, they said. Lawmakers would return later that month to take up any gubernatorial vetoes.
“We’re in extraordinary times,” Stivers later said in a Senate speech.
Lawmakers accelerated the pace of their work Thursday amid the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. They worked on virus-related proposals aimed at relaxing school schedules and helping businesses struggling to survive amid the health threat.
The legislature was in session much of this week even as Gov. Andy Beshear took aggressive steps in a bid to contain the coronavirus. The governor temporarily closed theaters, gyms, hair salons and many other businesses where people gather. Kentucky’s K-12 schools are shut down for at least two weeks and bars and restaurants have temporarily ceased dine-in services.
Kentucky recorded its second death from the virus as the total confirmed cases in the state reached 47 by Thursday afternoon.
In a Facebook post Thursday, Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr said lawmakers should “cease our meetings in Frankfort for the time being.”
The longtime lawmaker said that by continuing to meet, lawmakers were “putting other Kentuckians in danger, which is what we will do if one of us leaves the Capitol as a carrier of this virus we are all being ordered to avoid.”
Top Republican lawmakers said they were balancing the needs to keep people safe with the legislature’s responsibility to pass a new state budget that will take effect July 1.
The stacks of bills considered by lawmakers included proposals responding to the virus.
Lawmakers gave final approval Thursday night to a bill giving scheduling relief to school districts. The proposal now goes to Beshear. The measure would allow districts to use as many nontraditional instruction days as needed during closures caused by the virus. It would also let Kentucky’s education commissioner waive days taken off if needed.
“In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, it is important that schools and educators are not penalized for taking the necessary and responsible precautions to keep students and staff safe,” said Republican Rep. Mark Hart.
Lawmakers also worked on legislation to give relief to small businesses struggling amid the sharp economic downturn caused by the virus.
The legislature also gave final approval Thursday night to the photo-voter ID bill.
Lawmakers picked up the pace of sending bills to the governor this week. Among them was a measure to scale back the role of pharmacy benefit managers in handling Medicaid prescription drug claims. Under the bill, the state will hire one benefit manager to administer the pharmacy benefit for all those on the state’s Medicaid program.
Thursday was the 49th day of the 60-day session. Lawmakers have to wrap up their business by April 15.