Legislative Update …

Posted April 29, 2020 at 1:46 pm

Thoughts from

a rural Kentucky legislator

Is it possible to be concerned about public health, public safety, and the economy all at once? Is it true that someone must choose only one of those three sectors? Can we not be attentive to all three? Can COVID-19 be taken seriously while being reasonable in our response? These are questions that I have grappled with, and I’m sure countless others have over the past several weeks, especially since many neighboring states are starting to loosen economic restrictions.

I want to begin by saying that I do not envy the position in which Governor Andy Beshear finds himself. I have given him credit for how he has handled this pandemic to date. He has followed the ever-evolving White House recommendations as they have attempted to prepare us for the worst.

We have seen over the past month that the coronavirus is a very contagious and, for some segments of the population, a very deadly disease. So, what else have I learned from COVID-19?

I have learned that public health is an essential function of state government, and helping limit disease and death is a critical part of our responsibilities as lawmakers. The past six weeks have been tremendously trying times for our doctors, nurses, and healthcare support staff on the frontlines across the state, and I truly appreciate their service and commitment to the Commonwealth.

I believe Kentuckians understand these new considerate behaviors that are now necessary to limit the spread of the coronavirus. We all must practice social distancing, washing hands, and following the proper protocols in public spaces. We understand the importance of staying at home and limiting exposure to others if they are sick, feel sick, are immune-compromised, or over 65 years of age.

I also believe that the stay at home order from the Governor has helped prevent the possible widespread outbreak in Kentucky that we have witnessed in other areas of the country. I agree with the steps that have been taken, but it feels like rural Kentucky has suffered at a disproportionately higher economic level than the metro areas due to the stay at home order. Much of Kentucky’s rural economy is based on personal services and small retail sales, which are no longer able to operate.

It is my belief that most of Kentucky’s rural hospitals are prepared for a large influx of virus patients, but they have yet to show up in masses. This is not a criticism of our Governor — the need to hospitalize COVID-19 patients just has not seemed to balloon here like it has in the major urban areas. These same rural hospitals are now laying off staff in large numbers because they are not able to perform revenue-generating elective procedures.

Many rural Kentucky counties are seeing rates of infection and death that do not merit the complete shutdown of their economy. According to the New York Times Coronavirus Map, as of Saturday, April 18, most Kentucky counties are experiencing slower case growth.

As a state, we should continue to work to make sure that Kentucky has the capability to perform COVID-19 tests on everyone who feels they need it. I also believe the state should continue to help secure essential medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).

However, the question that presents itself as we witness this slower case growth — is it the time for Governor Beshear to place trust in Kentuckians? Will he allow citizens, most notably in rural areas, to continue to social distance, avoid crowds, and show the considerations that are necessary to limit the spread of the virus while allowing small businesses and their employees to go back to work? He has praised us for helping to flatten the curve, now can he trust us to continue to do this by gradually opening up our economy in the near future?

Too many rural small businesses are barely holding on, and any extension of the Governor’s stay at home order will be devastating to the future of these businesses and the rural Kentuckians who rely on them. Many local restaurants and service providers will never open up again, leaving family owners and their employees in economic ruin.

It is time for the Governor to lift his stay at home order and allow small businesses to reopen, restaurants to provide limited seating, and churches to host services that incorporate social distancing. Let’s allow for personal services such as dentists, physical therapists, and chiropractors to operate using the one in, one out practice. Finally, hospitals and surgical centers should start scheduling and performing certain elective procedures.

There is a need for balance when approaching this public health crisis, and most Kentuckians have done so for the sake of public health. Now it is time for equity, and time to allow our economy to begin to slowly rebound. If not, I fear a record number of small businesses will close, leaving us with an economy that will not be able to fully fund the needs of the Commonwealth.

While the Governor has not consulted with many in the General Assembly during this public health crisis, I would respectfully ask that he hear the collective cry on behalf of the citizens and small businesses in rural Kentucky. I would ask that he present us with a prospective date when we can reopen for business and trust our fine citizens to follow the social distancing and hygiene protocols that we now all know and understand.

In closing, please remember that we can disagree without hate or threat of violence. We have recently seen such unacceptable remarks made against our Governor on social media. I adamantly oppose and condemn this behavior and would encourage my fellow Kentuckians to do the same. Differences are decided at the ballot box. Our state motto is “United we stand, divided we fall,” and I hope we can see a commonsense approach in the days ahead that benefits everyone in the Commonwealth.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call the toll-free line at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.Note: Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) represents the 16th District which encompasses Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor, and Wayne Counties. He is the chairman of the Education Committee; as well as co-chairman of the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee. Senator Wise is also a member of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee; the Health and Welfare Committee; the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee; the Public Assistance Reform Task Force; the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development and Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, and the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation.