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Kentucky lawmakers at odds over COVID-19 response

As COVID-19 cases soar across the commonwealth debate over masking is still going strong in Frankfort. Senate President Robert Stivers responded to recent comments.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — With soaring COVID-19 cases and Kentucky hospitals running low on ICU beds across the state, there’s no doubt Kentucky is in the red zone.  

Instead of focusing on winning the fight against the virus, politicians appear to be using a lot of their time publicly throwing jabs at the other side.  

"What did they do? They punted on first down,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at a press conference on Sept. 10.  

The press conference was called to respond to the General Assembly wrapping up their special session.  

"He says we punted,” Senate President Robert Stivers said. "I will give you a sports analogy. He was running out the clock."

One of the main pandemic-related issues both sides are focused on right now is the overwhelmed hospital systems also dealing with a shortage of workers. 

Friday, GOP Senate President Robert Stivers called a press conference to respond to the governor’s analysis of the special session.  

Stivers said the governor waited too long to bring lawmakers to the table. 

He said it took the Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that said the legislature needs to weigh in on extended public health emergencies to call the General Assembly back for a special session.  

"He was more interested about litigating in court his power than talking to the legislature about possible solutions,” Stivers said. 

While both sides agree the situation in our helathcare systems is dire, they have yet to reach a compromise on how to proceed. 

Stivers said he thinks the governor should tap into federal pandemic relief funds to incentivize staff to stay in Kentucky.  

If there's not enough money there, Stivers said there’s plenty of money in the state coffers.  

"We've got over $2 billion to access if there's not enough ARPA monies there to help put nurses and technicians in the hospitals and in the long-term health care facilities and not even miss it,” Stivers said.  

Beshear, during a COVID briefing Thursday, said he doesn’t think the answer is bumping up salaries, and said that could lead to an unintentional inflation of healthcare worker salaries because of travel nursing programs.  

"If you just throw money at that from the hospital side is all the traveling agencies do is increase what they pay and you end up with the same problem,” Beshear said. “You end up with an even higher rate from the traveling agencies."

Also at the center of the senate president's press conference was the debate over masking in schools. 

As of today - all but six of Kentucky's 171 public school districts are requiring universal masking. A decision Stivers said proves giving local schools the power to make their own decisions is best.

"Right or wrong, they've done it. 90+% of the school-aged population is still masking," Stivers said.

The governor says the six districts not requiring universal masking are endangering their students.

"The argument that the General Assembly has somehow succeed because most schools are requiring masks is like saying the General Assembly has succeeded because most kids aren't neglected," Beshear said.

The statewide mask mandate approved by the state school board ended Friday.

RELATED: 'We’re only pushing so hard because we care about you' | Beshear issues message to unvaccinated

RELATED: Kentucky counties among highest in COVID-19 case rates across U.S.

 Contact reporter Rachel Droze at rdroze@whas11.com or on FacebookTwitter or Instagram 

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