Kansas lawmakers wrapping up 2020 legislative session this week

Published: May. 18, 2020 at 5:33 PM CDT
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Thursday, May 21, is shaping up to be a packed day for Kansas lawmakers on how to respond to COVID-19.

After a rush in March to wrap up critical legislative business due to the coronavirus, elected officials have one day this week to tie up loose ends.

Sine Die, the adjournment of 2020 legislative session, will see lawmakers taking up a wide array of COVID-19 issues.

"We're looking at the statue. We believe it's's outdated, and it doesn't really fit the situation that we're in." Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) said, "We have a lot of Kansas businesses who are very upset that the large big box stores are open and they're flooded with people. Their parking lots are full, and still, Main Street small businesses can't be open."

For the past week, the Kansas House and Senate have been holding committee hearings to craft bills.

"Things are moving very quickly in the Kansas Legislature," said Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita).

The main objective for many lawmakers is whether or not to extend the state's emergency declaration, currently set to expire next Tuesday (May 26).

"Both sides of the aisle, at least in the House, are working together to try to come together to come up with a workable solution," said Rep. Carmichael. "The governor's office has participated in those discussions."

The termination of the emergency declaration could jeopardize Kelly's executive orders and reopen the state without restrictions.

What Kansas GOP leaders propose is more oversight on the governor's emergency powers.

"We want to have checks and balances in the system," said Kansas Senate President Wagle. "We like for the legislature or committee to somehow review her order and the new spending that's coming in."

She added, "We're getting a $1.25 billion from the feds. The legislature is the appropriator. We think there also needs to be an oversight in spending."

State Republicans also want to speed up the reopening process in Kansas.

"Our goal is to let all businesses open safely," Senator Wagle said. "We know now that we need to enact social distancing. We know we need to do extra sanitary cleaning."

Senator Wagle said she believers there's a path forward where a business sector by business sector approach isn't needed.

"We have a lot of businesses who feel like her emergency orders very discriminatory," said Senator Wagle. "For instance, the bars saying why can you sit in a barber chair or sit in a restaurant but can't sit in a bar and have a drink. The youth sports are just tremendously upset. They were all expecting to open, and we have these outdoor flea markets and yet you can't go to a baseball game or go to basketball practice."

State Democrats want a more cautious approach and to hold off on making any sweeping changes to emergency authority.

"(I) believe the legislators would be making a foolish mistake were we to assume the responsibility for managing the crisis," Rep. Carmichael said.

He added, "The statue on emergency preparedness was drafted in 1975. Nobody was thinking about pandemics. The law that is in place today is really not suitable for the crisis that confronts us. The difficulty that we have, at least in the House Judiciary committee is we don't want to move quickly and change the laws regarding emergency preparedness on a hasty basis because if we do, we could very easily make this situation much, much worse."

Lawmakers will also discuss waiving late penalties on property and income taxes, legal liability relief for businesses and hospitals, and COVID-19 economic recovery initiatives.

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