Lawmakers Reject Mask Mandate Three Days Before Expiration

Jun 8, 2021

Credit Ryan Van Velzer

A panel of Republican state legislators voted to end Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s mask mandate three days before it’s set to expire.

The largely symbolic move comes after more than a year of partisan fighting over the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Beshear has said he will end the mask mandate on Friday and scheduled his final regular coronavirus briefing to be on the same day.

Still, because last month Beshear updated the state’s regulation to no longer require vaccinated people to wear masks in most places, the policy needed to be reviewed by the legislature’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee.

On Tuesday, the subcommittee voted to find the regulation “deficient,” though the governor can easily override the decision.

Sen. Stephen West, a Republican from Paris and co-chair of the committee, said he doesn’t trust the governor will end the mask requirement on Friday.

“Personally I feel we’re in a really bad place. Because the administration has not built up a level of trust with the legislature. It was clear from our session what we wanted to happen as it pertains to this,” West said.

Earlier this year, the Republican-led legislature passed several laws limiting the governor’s power during states of emergency, including measures capping executive orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature and giving lawmakers more oversight over the administrative regulation process.

A court temporarily blocked those laws after Beshear sued and the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments over the matter on Thursday.

Wesley Duke, general counsel for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the committee the mandate will be repealed on Friday, though masks will still be required in some health care and long-term care settings.

“It will focus on two specific environments—and that’s a healthcare setting, and that is a long-term care setting and will be directly focused toward those vulnerable populations. And that will be the extent of any mask requirements or mask guidance,” Duke told the administrative regulations panel.

Last month, Beshear said masks will still be required in some other places, too—schools, homeless shelters, jails and public transit.

West said the governor’s regulations “are less about health and more about control” and worried about the state using its powers to incentivize vaccinations.

“What I don’t want to see is ‘you can take off that mask if you’re vaccinated.’ That’s definitely an incentive to be vaccinated. And some people have made the conscious medical decision that this is an experimental vaccine and we don’t want to go that route right now, we want to see how things pan out. And that’s their decision, that’s their private, individual medical decision,” West said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The FDA approved the vaccines after they underwent clinical trials including tens of thousands of participants.

Last September, West cast doubt on the state’s coronavirus-related death statistics because they include people who have health conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus. According to the CDC, six out of 10 adult Americans have some form of chronic condition.

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