Beshear suggests options for lawmakers amid virus outbreak

March 18, 2020 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear suggested two options Tuesday for Kentucky lawmakers amid the coronavirus outbreak — pass a budget and go home, or leave now and wait for him to convene a special session.

The Democratic governor weighed in on the legislative timetable as lawmakers resumed their session. Tuesday was day 47 in the 60-day session scheduled to end in mid-April.

The biggest job for the GOP-led legislature is to finish work on a two-year state budget that would take effect July 1. The House recently passed a budget and the Senate is working on its version.

At his daily coronavirus update, Beshear was asked about a letter he received from legislative leaders concerning the session. Their request was that he call a special session that would start immediately but they could decide how long it would last, he told reporters.

“I’m not playing the Democrat or Republican game,” Beshear said. “I’m not doing the back and forth.”

Senate President Robert Stivers responded that legislative leaders weren’t being political. Lawmakers are expediting work on the budget but cannot finish their work any earlier than mid- to late next week, he said.

Beshear, who has been focused on the state’s response to the virus threat, said he thinks there are just two options on how lawmakers can proceed.

One possible path for legislators is to pass a budget as quickly as possible and go home, the governor said. He urged them to avoid passing controversial measures.

“Certainly don’t consider laws that get people fired up,” he said. “People are already on edge and anxious out there. Why in the world would you do that? It’s not healthy and it’s not what we should be doing.”

That quick timetable in passing a budget would be helpful because officials don’t know how long the coronavirus will remain a threat, he said.

“If we go into the next fiscal year, I don’t want there to be limitations on funding that might be necessary to address the coronavirus,” the governor said.

The other option would be for lawmakers to adjourn and wait for him to call them back into a special session when officials believe it is safe to reconvene, he said.

Beshear said he would limit the agenda to passing a budget and dealing with any coronavirus-related legislation that might be needed. As governor, he has the sole power to call a special session and to set the agenda.

Meanwhile, Stivers outlined a plan Tuesday to pass priority bills with a goal of ending the year’s session next week.

The Republican leader said that it’s better for lawmakers to be in session now to pass a new state budget before the virus outbreak potentially becomes worse.

“I believe right now is the time for us to be here, finish our business as quickly and expeditiously as possible, and then go home,” he said in a Senate floor speech.

Lawmakers took up a number of bills in committee and in the House and Senate on Tuesday. They took parliamentary steps to allow accelerated action on a stack of bills. They can juggle work on the budget while also passing other bills in the time left in the session, Stivers said.

Stivers said the goal was to get done with business as quickly as possible so that government could continue to operate beyond July 1.

“As it stands now, in a very, very fluid situation, one like we have never seen ... that we get in, take the bills we can, prioritize them, move through the system and shoot to get out of here targeted date next week with limited contact to try to conclude our business,” Stivers said in his speech.

Lawmakers reconvened Tuesday for the first time since last Thursday.