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ACLU: Virus Precautions Could Keep Protesters Out As Lawmakers Hear Controversial Bills

Josh James

The Kentucky Senate's passionately-debated priority immigration bill is slated for a hearing in a House committee Wednesday - despite new coronavirus precautions that bar the general public from attending. 

The Capitol closed its doors to the general public on Monday, raising concerns about Kentuckians' ability to take part in the legislative process. The ACLU is pointing to Wednesday House committee plans to take up a controversial sanctuary cities ban, a measure that's drawn vocal opposition during previous hearings.

Yet business continued in the Kentucky Capitol Tuesday, despite a number of questions looming over the remainder of the 60-day legislative session. Pressure appeared to be mounting on Gov. Andy Beshear to consider calling the legislature into special session in order to create more flexibility in passing the budget amid the virus outbreak. Sen. Whitney Westerfield circulated a letter,presumably from Speaker David Osborne to Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, saying chamber leaders have asked the governor to allow them to complete the two-year spending plan in a special session.

So far the governor has not made that call.

"This is our first actual our meeting for this session," Sen. Jared Carpenter announced at the start of the sparsely attended Senate Banking and Insurance Committee hearing Tuesday. "I know I've had lots of texts from folks that really hate they can't be here in attendance today, but I'm sure they're watching on KET." 

Since coronavirus restrictions have ramped up, the Capitol rotunda was gone mostly quiet, the normally humming annex cafeteria has had all chairs and tables removed, and some House Democratic legislators are following the advice of caucus leaders and staying home if they're 60 or older or have underlying health issues. 

"Anyone who says they feel safe right now isn't telling the truth. Everyone feels anxious, everyone feels scared. That's understandable, but don't panic," Louisville lawmaker Morgan McGarvey told reporters. 

By law, the 2020 regular session must end by April 15.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.