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'No Legislation Without Participation': Session, Protests Continue Despite Outbreak

Josh James

Lawmakers returned to work in Frankfort Thursday with their eye on coronavirus relief and leaders signaling that some priority bills might be dead for the session. But other business did move forward in committee - keeping alive concerns that the legislature could still act on controversial measures amid the partial shutdown of the Capitol.

During a typical session, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on an abortion bill might mean a packed house, passionate testimony, and maybe even costumed protesters. In the age of coronavirus, not so much.

"All right, let's jump right in," chair Whitney Westerfield said, before introducing the hearing's only bill in a mostly empty committee room.

The lawmaker oversaw a brief meeting of spread out colleagues, who made few comments and asked no questions before swiftly passing House Bill 451, a measure expanding the scope of the attorney general's authority to enforce abortion laws. Yet Westerfield said restrictions keeping the general public out haven't stopped Kentuckians from weighing in.

"That limitation is frustrating, but it hasn't slowed the process down," he told the panel, adding he'd received feedback from constituents about a series of bills leading up to the meeting.

Not content with staying "virtual," however, were members of the Save Kentucky Democracy Coalition, which circled the Capitol in their vehicles, blasting their horns, and calling for "no legislation without participation." Sentiments that echo comments made the day before by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who reiterated his call for legislators not to pass bills that will "get people worked up on any side."

"There shouldn't be sides. We're in a place right now where we need people to be calm because there's something bigger that we're facing than we have ever seen," Beshear told reporters during his daily coronavirus briefing. "We ought to be united."

But two of the bills that have drawn the most heat this session could be flaming out, with the Herald-Leader tweeting that the proposed sanctuary city ban and public assistance reform package appear dead in the House.

The revised legislative calendar has lawmakers meeting once more, on April 1st, before the governor gets a chance to veto legislation, and two days after in mid-April to override those actions or pass new bills.

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.