The Kansas Legislature reached First Adjournment last Thursday with the intent to return for the Veto Session on April 27th. Sine Die is set for May 21st. While these dates are set in stone, the reality of the current situation is anything but solidified. The session ended with a truncated state budget and the passage of an emergency resolution—neither of which were foreseen just 10 short weeks ago.
COVID-19 was the primary concern of each branch of government these past ten days. Gov. Laura Kelly declared a state of emergency (https://governor.kansas.gov/governor-kelly-outlines-new-executive-orders-to-improve-public-safety-regarding-covid-19-pandemic/) and shut down schools (https://governor.kansas.gov/governor-kelly-recommends-the-kansas-state-department-of-education-temporarily-close-schools-to-implement-comprehensive-education-plan-amidst-covid-19-pandemic/), the Chief Justice ordered courts to move to emergency operations and limited courthouse access and the legislature passed a resolution providing tens of millions of dollars to combat the health and economic damage of COVID-19. The objective was to provide necessary operational authority and funding to deal with the pandemic while closing out the session as quickly as possible. The concern over community spread was an issue on the minds of every person in the Capital.
In a showing of bipartisanship, the Kansas Legislature was able to pass a barebones budget, complete a transportation bill and give the governor powers, albeit limited, to deal with the virus outbreak. This all happened in under seven days.
Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch (R-Ottawa) demonstrated great courage and leadership by calling for unity in this time of crisis. His was a calming voice in a time of uncertainty. I encourage you to watch his comments here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwBJghLKim4&feature=youtu.be&t=25656.
HCR 5025 - Governor’s Emergency Powers
The State of Kansas took the lead on the COVID-19 precautionary front. The state was the first in the country to close public schools. Other states have followed suit since that time and large states, including California and New York, have instituted even more restrictive measures.
The governor has imposed several additional restrictions to help reduce the spread of the Covid-19 including:
- Furlough non-essential state employees for two weeks starting Monday, March 23.
- Prohibit mass gatherings likely to draw 10 or more people.
- Temporarily restrict evictions and foreclosures until May 1, 2020.
- Close bars, restaurants and related businesses; take-out only.
- Suspend utility disconnects.
These restrictions are just the beginning, and more restrictions may be implemented. Most currently, the Governor has allowed the hospitality industry to take out $20,000 in short term loans at no interest for up to six months. She has the authority to offer these types of programs because the legislature passed HCR 5025.
HCR 5025 grants the governor additional emergency powers, while also placing certain limitations and oversight on this authority by the Legislative Coordinating Council. The Governor has emergency powers in statute to deal with natural disasters and other kinds of situations generally foreseeable. HCR 5025 prevents the Governor from enacting restrictions on the sale of firearms and ammunition as well as prevent the confiscation or otherwise take control of the assets and accounts of local governments.
The Kansas Legislature passed to several bills aimed directly at addressing Covid-19 health and economic concerns. They include:
- SB 27 extends unemployment eligibility for workers filing claims January 1, 2020 and later.
- SB 142 expands the waiver authority for meeting education requirements (e.g., hours of attendance).
- SB 102 grants the Judicial Branch with authority to extend statutory deadlines, time limitations on court proceedings and authorizes video conferencing
The Kansas Supreme Court has also acted quickly to protect litigants, lawyers and staff. On March 18, 2020, the Supreme Court released Administrative Order 2020-PR-016 directing all district and appellate courts to cease all but emergency operations until further order. The Supreme Court anticipates the order to remain in effect for at least two weeks, at which time it will be reevaluated.
The Court has also issued additional orders that include:
03-16-20: 2020-PR-015: Restrictions to mitigate COVID-19 spread
03-12-20: 2020-PR-013: Kansas judicial branch policy on pandemic disease
Kansas is facing a pandemic on a scale not seen since the flu of 1918 that will affect all citizens and damage our economy. Many predict that more difficult times are ahead. However, each branch of Kansas government has acted thoughtfully and courageously, taking significant steps to protect its citizens. I was able to witness firsthand a bipartisan approach to crisis management and fully believe we have made the necessary preparations that will allow us to resist and recover from the pandemic. Look after yourselves and your neighbors, and we will all get through this. Even through difficulty, we will reach the STARS.
*A more detailed analysis of 2020 legislation will be posted in the coming days.