Late last week the Kansas Legislature adjourned for 2020 after a two-day Special Session. The Special Session became necessary when Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed COVID-19-related legislation on May 26th. The 2020 Legislative Regular, Veto and Special Sessions saw a significant decrease in legislation passed. It could be argued that 2020 was the least productive session in Kansas history, with fewer than 20 bills approved. On the flip side, we witnessed an increase in the number of issues vetoed by the governor or rejected by the legislature. For instance, Gov. Kelly vetoed HB 2054 which was the Omnibus COVID-19 response bill which forced the Special Session.
The Governor also vetoed:
• HB 2510 that contained education legislation
• HB 2619 which created a loan program for economic recovery, and
• HB 2702 dealing with property valuation
The legislature rejected two of Gov. Kelly’s executive reorganization measures. One reorganization effort would have combined DCF with KDADS; the other would have created the Energy Office. Finally, the Kansas Senate rejected the Court of Appeals nomination of Carl Folsom. The Governor will need to nominate a new candidate to fill the Court of Appeals vacancy.
The legislature was able to reach a compromise with the Governor’s Office on a new COVID-19 measure. That bill—HB 2016—was negotiated by the Governor’s office and legislative leaders. The rank and file members were not privy to these discussions. HB 2016 contains legislative oversight for federal COVID funds, new limitations on the Governor’s powers to close schools and businesses, immunity for healthcare groups and some businesses, product liability protection and extension of certain executive orders.
The bill extends the emergency declaration until Sept. 15th. The governor can extend that date for 15 days with the approval of the State Finance Council. The governor can close schools, but local school boards will have the authority to override her decision. Closing businesses will be left to county commissioners and local health officials.
The bill also creates Contact Tracing Privacy Act to protect the privacy of individuals whose information is collected through contract tracing measures. Contact tracing will not be mandatory, and those refusing to engage in contact tracing will be immune from liability.
Finally, the bill creates a provision that protects notarial acts (notarized signatures) performed via electronic means during the emergency declaration. This creates a safe harbor for remote notaries.
With the adjournment of the 2020 legislative session legislators will return to their districts to begin the campaign season. All 125 house seats are up as are all 40 State Senate seats. We will also have four congressional races and a very significant U.S. Senate race.