Representative Phillip Pratt and Senator Damon Thayer were recognized as 2021 Partners for Commonsense Justice during a ceremony at Georgetown Community Hospital on Thursday. The award “recognizes state legislators who went above and beyond in Frankfort to protect small businesses, healthcare providers and schools from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits”.
Both elected officials were given the award for their support of Senate Bill 5 during the 2021 General Assembly. Thayer, who is the senate majority floor leader, co-sponsored the bill.
“We appreciate the hard work of Senator Thayer in co-sponsoring the bill and getting it to the floor and also Representative Pratt for his sponsorship and getting it passed in the House,” said William Haugh, Georgetown Community Hospital chief executive officer.
The Partnership for Commonsense Justice (PCJ) coalition includes healthcare providers, small business owners, job creators and taxpayers who are concerned about Kentucky’s liability climate.
Travis Burton, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce director of political affairs, said the coalition contained over 60 groups, one of the larger coalitions to join around a bill in the last session.
“This last session, this issue came front and center as our state and nation and world grappled with COVID-19, and we saw the necessity to have the government step up and offer commonsense protections to those small businesses who had their backs on the rope and were doing everything the right way to keep our economy open, to our healthcare workers who were working 24/7 to provide care to our citizens, and to our educators who were doing everything possible to make sure their students were still receiving the education and the services that they needed,” Burton said.
Many coalition members expressed their gratitude for the hard work and resilience of Thayer and Pratt to get Senate Bill 5 enacted into law, including Kentucky Retail Federation Senior Vice President- Government Affairs Shannon Stiglitz.
“They (Pratt and Thayer) fight to protect Kentucky businesses, including the retail community, who navigated so many challenges given that they were public-facing businesses, but they aren’t healthcare providers. They had a huge learning curve to overcome, tons of different guidances, different interpretations and it was an absolute maze that without Senate Bill 5, they would have probably not been able to take somewhat of a sigh of relief,” said Stiglitz.
For healthcare officials, Senate Bill 5 is important in providing protection from liability lawsuits as they are sacrificing their time and lives to fight COVID-19.
“Throughout the pandemic, providers especially have constantly faced increasing concerns of liability instead of being reassured that their actions and self-sacrificing efforts to provide care to their patients would be protected. Thankfully, with the passage of Senate Bill 5, meaningful protections from COVID-19 related lawsuits have been established for healthcare providers as well as businesses, organizations, schools and individuals who have reopened their doors and are continuing to follow the recommended guidelines amid the pandemic,” Kentucky Health Collaborative Manager of Clinical and Advocacy Programs Andrea Slone said.
Jim Musser, Kentucky Hospital Association vice president of policy and government relations, added that healthcare workers worked continuously to provide care to citizens while some law firms sought to aid citizens with COVID-19 lawsuits.
“They were putting their lives on the line, they were putting their lives on hold, working extraordinary hours. They really were the heroes of the pandemic, and in the meantime, Morgan and Morgan was sending out ads about how to bring suits over COVID, and yet our doctors and nurses and all of the teams here in our hospital were trying to deal with guidance from the CDC and from HRSA and HHS and FDA and state agencies, and it was changing certainly daily, sometimes hourly,” Musser said. “The protections that Senate Bill 5 provide to our medical heroes has been absolutely invaluable in making sure that those heroes are going to be around to fight the next battle when we need to fight that.”
Modifications to COVID-19 guidelines occurred daily, often several times a day. While the constant shift in protocols was difficult for healthcare workers, school officials also felt the effects of the changes.
“When we think back about one year ago, last summer, all of our school districts were looking at guidance at three levels of government that was changing sometimes several times during a single day. Sometimes we would have a press conference at 2 o’clock that says something different than what we heard at 1 o’clock in a superintendent web call. So it was so difficult when we were trying to open up school as normally as possible but also safely,” said Eric Kennedy, Kentucky School Board Association governmental relations director.
Kennedy acknowledged school board officials’ concerns over the specific wording in Senate Bill 5. Officials told Kennedy their worries over being held liable for students getting COVID-19 in the school setting.
“If someone gets sick and claims it was from school, and we could not guarantee that that would not happen, it might be very rare, not impossible and that’s once example why Senate Bill 5, the reasonable protections that is has, the balance that it drew, is so critically important for schools and some of the other essential services and essential providers, that’s things out there like healthcare and the retailers, so we are just so grateful for the protections and the balance it struck,” Kennedy said.
Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Public Affairs Kate Shanks also noted her appreciation for Pratt and Thayer and their efforts to step up during an unprecedented time for the economy, healthcare, legislators and the rest of the community.
“During a crisis we often hear that leaders lead, and we really appreciate these two men stepping up and leading on this bill,” Shanks said.
During their acceptance, Pratt and Thayer both thanked those involved for the award and acknowledged the difficulties in getting Senate Bill 5 passed.
“It was a very important bill, and you’re right, these are not easy to get passed. It takes a lot of push sometimes to get this,” Pratt said. “Without common sense law like this, you would have had more lawsuits, which would cause businesses to close and only devastated the small business community that had already been affected.”
The strength of the coalition helped get Senate Bill 5 passed without Gov. Beshear’s signature, Thayer said.
“It was a really difficult bill that faced some strong headwinds get across the finish line. Just to give you an example, we overrode 33 of Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes and dozens of line-item vetoes in our budget, and I thought he was going to veto this bill, but because of the strength of this coalition and the advocates here that you’ve heard from who made the case to him how important this bill was, he let this bill become law without his signature, which is a very rare thing for this governor to do,” Thayer said.
With Pratt alongside him, Thayer believes Scott County is in good hands in Frankfort.
“The folks of Scott County have a pretty good 1-2 punch in Frankfort. Phil and I agree on just about everything and we both pursue things when we feel they are the right thing to do with a dogma that I think is unmatched by very many representative-senator teams in Frankfort. I’m really honored to receive this award with him today,” Thayer said.
Abby Hooven can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.