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Beshear: GOP leaders reject overture on essential-worker pay

The top GOP lawmakers suggested the governor work through the legislature’s committee process.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky’s Republican legislative leaders rejected a request to appoint members to a group to discuss using federal pandemic aid to reward frontline workers with bonuses, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday.

Instead, in yet another reflection of the state’s fiercely divided politics, the top GOP lawmakers suggested the governor work through the legislature’s committee process.

The governor had asked that legislative leaders select a handful of Republican and Democratic lawmakers to join a working group to fill in details of his plan. Beshear wants to use $400 million in federal pandemic assistance to award extra pay to essential workers employed throughout the pandemic. Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in the legislature.

The group, also to include members of Beshear’s administration, would try to reach consensus on key issues — which professions should be included and the amount of payments.

Democratic lawmakers submitted their choices for the group but Republican leaders declined to do so, the governor said at a news conference Monday.

In their reply to the governor, House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers said they’d welcome reviewing the proposal through the legislature’s “regular policymaking process.”

“We respect the legislative committees’ expertise and public’s input in these matters, and do not see any purpose at this time in circumventing their usual jurisdiction with an additional working group,” they wrote to Beshear. “Your administration is welcome to advance any bonus pay proposals during the remaining interim committee schedule, or during the 2022 Regular Session.”

Lawmakers will convene next year’s session in early January.

Beshear said he was disappointed by the reply but will keep pressing for the bonus pay.

Credit: AP
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks about the increases in COVID-19 cases in the state and the opening day of the Kentucky State Legislature special session in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

The governor has mentioned health care workers, police officers, firefighters, educators, grocery store workers and people working in manufacturing as among those who should be considered. Lawmakers would make the final decision on appropriating the federal assistance.

“I believe strongly that our people who have worked almost two years through this pandemic deserve appreciation, deserve encouragement, deserve an atta’boy and an atta’girl,” Beshear said.

Beshear said he sees the prospect of bonus pay as an incentive “for people to hold on” as the fight against the pandemic continues.

In their reply to the governor, Osborne and Stivers expressed their ongoing commitment to alleviating “workforce issues” facing health care providers.

“The House majority will continue to approach this policy discussion as we do every piece of legislation we pass — by working with stakeholders and engaging with the executive branch,” Osborne said in a separate statement Monday. “We look forward to the administration’s input but would advise that any proposals focus on bolstering the workforce, getting Kentuckians back to work and removing the barriers that stand in the way of our economy moving forward.”

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