Gov. Andy Beshear’s latest political gyration involving leaning on the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) to mandate all children in every public school across the commonwealth don masks for 270 days – the entire school year unless the board relents, which is unlikely – helps strengthen the case for passage of a constitutional amendment next year allowing the legislature to call itself into session to deal with such matters and presumably restore the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches.
Lawmakers sent clear messages about their intent during this year’s General Assembly by passing legislation limiting some emergency executive orders – like those closing businesses or harassing churches – to 30 days.
However, Beshear, who during his tenure has demonstrated little interest in legislative intent, instead used his self-appointed KBE bureaucrats to bypass the will of the people’s representatives.
The legislature’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee recently deemed the KBE’s masking regulation “deficient” after a three-hour hearing in which many parents expressed frustration over having nowhere else to go to find relief or at least have their concerns seriously considered.
Sarah Durand, my colleague at the Bluegrass Institute and parent of Louisville public school students, suggested to the committee in her testimony that the best solution is to leave the decision to mask kids up to their parents.
“If you want to mask your children, you should have the right to do that; I fully support that,” Durand said. “But for those parents who don’t support masking, they feel helpless in this battle.”
Legislators hearing from multitudes of those frustrated parents feel helpless, too.
Since the Kentucky Constitution limits their ability to meet, the soonest legislators could act on the subcommittee’s determination that the KBE’s regulation is deficient would be during the next General Assembly session, which doesn’t begin until January – well after completion of the school year’s first semester.
There will be an opportunity for Kentuckians to change the constitution during the next election in November 2022 to allow lawmakers more flexibility about how they use the days they’re currently allowed to meet – 60 days during even-numbered years in which they must pass a biennial state budget and 30 days during odd-numbered years.
Passage of the amendment would loosen the current constitutional requirement that legislators adjourn by April 15 during the even-numbered budget sessions and by March 30 in odd-numbered years by allowing the spreading of those days throughout the year.
Plus, it would allow legislators to call themselves back into session for up to 12 additional days during the year.
While this column has previously expressed plenty of concern over allowing legislators more days to meet, it’s unavoidable considering the current executive’s antics not to see this proposed amendment as a feasible way of addressing Beshear’s heavy-handed approach to locking down the state and interfering with parents’ and local school districts’ decision-making regarding how best to respond to COVID-19 and its mutations.
Were this amendment already in effect, the legislature could return to Frankfort, eliminate the KBE’s deficient regulation and pass legislation allowing districts to determine their own masks policies – all possibly within a couple of weeks.
Doing so would recognize what the Beshear administration refuses to acknowledge: there are significant differences in the needs of, say, the Jefferson County Public Schools with its 100,348 students in urban Louisville and those of the Science Hill Independent School District an entire world away with 406 students in Pulaski County.
The KBE issued its mandate just hours after the Local Superintendent’s Advisory Council advised the board to postpone the decision while emphasizing the role of districts’ leadership and the need to determine local metrics.
Such flippant dismissal of local decision-making by this governor and his ideologically aligned, unelected bureaucrats is unacceptable, if unsurprising.
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @bipps on Twitter.