FRANKFORT, KY— As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, so does the Kentucky General Assembly’s commitment to addressing the Commonwealth’s pandemic-related needs.
On Thursday, the legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 25, which seeks to extend a number of COVID-19 executive orders and offer schools some additional flexibility on remote learning.
Upon the governor’s signature, the bill will give public school districts up to 10 remote instruction days per school for the remainder of the 2021-22 academic year.
That will allow superintendents to move specific classrooms, grades or schools experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases to temporary remote instruction instead of having to shut down entire schools or school districts at once.
As more school districts face staffing shortages, another provision in SB 25 would allow more retired teachers to return to the classroom.
SB 25 also seeks to extend COVID-19 emergency order protections against price gouging, expand access to nutrition assistance, allow flexibility for retired first responders to return to work and allow state and local governments to conduct business and meetings virtually. It also would extend the emergency order allowing pharmacies to fill prescriptions for up to 30 days.
Under this bill, these orders would now expire on April 14.
The House approved SB 25 by an 84-9 vote Thursday after amending the bill to include the emergency extensions. The Senate later concurred on changes with a 17-8 vote. Now the measure will be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto.
Rep. Scott Lewis, R-Hartford, and Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, presented the bill on the House floor before the vote.
Rowland said SB 25 is similar to emergency measures that lawmakers adopted in the 2021 Extraordinary Session, some of which are set to expire on Saturday. SB 25 will continue the COVID-19 state of emergency to the extent necessary to secure federal funding and reimbursements, he said.
In explaining the education portion of the bill, Lewis said although SB 25 is similar to a bill from the 2021 Extraordinary Session, the guidelines for remote learning were changed to help avoid large-scale shut downs of entire schools or districts.
House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, voted “yes” on SB 25, but said she felt the process was rushed.
“I think among the body there’s probably a whole lot of concern that things aren’t covered in this bill,” she said.
When considering changes made to SB 25 by the House, a few Senate members also expressed frustration with the process and disagreed with changes to the bill.
Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, is the primary sponsor of SB 25. However, he voted against the final bill after it was amended in the House. So did Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder.
“I have questions just with the process,” Schroder said. “You know, Senate Bill 25 left the Senate Chamber as a 4-page bill relating to education, and I agree that it did have some COVID measures in there. But it came back under the House Committee Substitute as a 12-page bill with all these emergency orders in there.”
On the House floor, Rep. James Nemes, R-Louisville, spoke in favor of the education portion of the bill.
“I will say that this is good,” Nemes said. “One reason I’m happy is because it will enable the kids across the Commonwealth to be back in school more often.”
SB 25 contains an emergency clause, which will allow it to become law immediately upon the governor’s signature.