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2021 Special Session Adjourns Sine Die

It has been an honor to serve the citizens of the Commonwealth during the 2021 Special Session, which began on Tuesday and adjourned late last night just before midnight.

The Good: We ended the mask mandate for childcare centers and K-12 by relegating policymaking to locally-elected school board members and individual childcare centers. Several legislators would have preferred to leave the decision to parents themselves, but a floor amendment which would have made that possible was ruled out of order in the Senate. At least this decision will now be made by elected officials who can be held accountable by the citizens they serve, instead of unelected bureaucrats at the Kentucky Department of Education or the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The Bad: The legislature took no substantive action to prohibit mandatory vaccination on the state level. The only discernible attempt was through the inclusion of local health departments in the list of state entities that must allow for an exemption on the basis of conscientious objection. That does nothing to address vaccine mandates currently being issued by private employers, hospitals, and postsecondary institutions, nor would it prohibit vaccine mandates that could potentially be issued by local governments, K-12 schools, or insurance companies.

Two vaccine exemption amendments were filed in the House, and six in the Senate. All Senate amendments were ruled out of order. In the House, I filed an amendment which would have disallowed funding for any person or entity that has a policy of requiring the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine without allowing for an exemption on the basis of conscientious objection. The amendment also stipulated that employees who are terminated for choosing not to receive a vaccine would be entitled to expungement of discipline, reinstatement of employment, and back pay.

I also had the privilege of calling a vaccine exemption amendment filed by my esteemed colleague Rep. Felicia Rabourn, due to unforeseen circumstances that prevented her from attending session yesterday. The amendment that she had been fighting for would have disallowed school districts from using intimidation tactics or negative incentives to encourage vaccinations. It also would have prohibited school districts or other governmental entities from requiring the immunization of any person who is opposed on the basis of religious or conscientiously held beliefs.

Both of these amendments failed in a procedural vote. Both of these amendments were filed on Tuesday, the first day of Session, mere MOMENTS after the House bills were filed (HB 1 and HB 3). The language was out there more than 48 hours before the vote occurred, and I personally informed House leadership of the substance of the amendment before it was it filed. Unfortunately, some have chosen to hide behind a process that they themselves intentionally set into motion, a process that was designed to silence the voices of citizens in 108 counties. What I’m referring to is the unprecedented use of identical bill substitution, pursuant to Rule 58. When I filed my amendment at the clerk’s desk, I was told that this process had never been used before.

Identical bills were filed in the House and the Senate, and then Senate versions were substituted for House bills. Rank and file members (93 in the House and 32 in the Senate) were told that no amendments would be accepted on any bill. The only individuals who had any control over the legislation that was passed were 10 individuals, members of House and Senate Majority leadership. These were the individuals who had negotiated the legislation with the Governor ahead of time.

Fast forward to Thursday. While the Senate was busy ruling every good amendment out of order (there were some terrific amendments filed by Sen. Steve West, Sen. Matt Castlen, and Sen. Adrienne Southworth), the House was waiting to receive possession of these bills. House members CANNOT file amendments to a Senate bill until the House is in possession of the bill, therefore it would have been IMPOSSIBLE for me to have filed an amendment on the Senate bill until the exact moment that I did, the very second SB 3 arrived. So if you happen to be noticing that some members of leadership are saying that an amendment was filed last minute- and I hate to use the term- but that’s fake news.

They were well aware of the language, and it was a direct result of a process that they employed to stifle any attempt to amend legislation. It really wasn’t my intent to expose any of the inner workings of this debacle, but I believe I owe it to the citizens of the Commonwealth to state the truth. In defense of rank and file members who truly DO support banning vaccine mandates, many members were told by leadership to “take a walk” so that they did not have to bear the brunt of killing a vaccine exemption amendment. They were told that the Senate would not accept the changes, and that is likely true given that this legislation had been negotiated with and agreed to by Governor Beshear.

Leadership was not wrong for wanting this Session to take place expediently. After fighting for the ability to force the Governor to call us into a special session, it was important to act decisively as a body, but I think there is a lesson to be learned from this experience. There is a balance that must be found between responding expediently and putting a stranglehold on the legislative process. We fought to get out from under a monarchy, and the answer is NOT to settle for an oligarchy.

I firmly believe that something should have been done about mandatory vaccination this Session, and I have voiced that opinion strongly. It was never my intention to throw a wrench in anyone’s plans, or to create division among my colleagues. I am only interested in working for the good of the Commonwealth. I am more than willing to overlook these false insinuations about my character and motivations because I understand that we are all human, and we were all contending with a very stressful situation. I hope that we can move past the dissension and commit to uniting around one common goal: Restoring the consent of the governed.

Lastly, some have asked how yesterday’s federal vaccine mandates would impact ongoing policy discussions at the state level. Although the President’s actions are both shocking and blatantly abusive, this is no time for state lawmakers to be hidin’ behind Biden. It is well within the realm of possibility that the mandates will be struck down by the Supreme Court just like the CDC’s eviction moratorium; NOW is the time for the legislature to get its affairs in order and be prepared to pass substantive protections in January.

Paid for by Savannah Maddox for State Representative
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