COVID-19 has forced each branch of government to re-evaluate their operating structure and make decisions based on the health of citizens and staff. The governor declared a state of emergency (Governor Kelly outlines new executive orders to improve public safety regarding COVID-19 pandemic); and shut down schools (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 barebone budget, complete a transportation bill and give the governor, albeit limited, powers to deal with the virus outbreak. This all happened in under 7 days.
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 of non-essential state employees for two weeks starting Monday, March 23.
- Prohibit mass gatherings likely to draw 10 or more people.
- Temporary restriction on evictions and foreclosures until May 1, 2020.
- Closure of bars, restaurants and related businesses; take-out only.
- Suspension of 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 6 months. The governor 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.
On Saturday, March 28th Governor Laura Kelly announced the state of Kansas would implement a statewide “stay at home” order. This order would begin on Monday, March 30th and run thru April 19th. The order can be extended should circumstances warrant. You can review the order here: Gov Kelly Executive order.pdf
The stay at home order requires all citizens to shelter in homes to slow the spread of COVID-19. The order exempts essential workers for the order when performing their duties. The order breaks down essential functions into four distinct categories. They are listed as Kansas Essential Function Framework. The KEFF categories are CONNECT, DISTRIBUTE, MANAGE & SUPPLY.
The KEFF exempts such things are attending religious ceremonies (KEFF 300 MANAGE 12(b) and transporting cargo and passengers by air (KEFF 200 SUPPLY 4). Legal services are considered an essential function under KEFF 300 MANAGE 12(c).
It is important to note that when performing an essential function, it is advised to follow all safety protocol by operating in groups of no more than 10 and maintaining a safe distance of 6 feet.
The latest Executive Order supersedes all local government stay at home orders.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has provided information that may prove useful. This resource center has quarantine information, along with tool kit for everyday issues that are altered because of the crisis. See; http://www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus/COVID-19_Resource_Center.htm?panel=14
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
Many lawyers have questions about remote notaries. The KBA is working with the Ks SOS office on this issue. There are several organizations that have similar concerns and these concerns have been forwarded to the governor’s office. The hope is the governor will issue an executive order on the topic but as of, yet no order had been approved.
The KBA is supporting a bill, HB 2713, that would allow remote notaries. This bill is still in the legislative process and will be a priority should the legislature return on April 27th.
Kansas Supreme Court
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 court has also issued additional orders that include:
04-03-20: 2020-PR-032: Order Amending 2020-PR-016
04-03-20: 2020-RL-031: Order Suspending Certain Deadlines and Time Limitations in Kansas Municipal Courts Due to the COVID-19 Emergency
03-30-20: 2020-RL-027: Order Suspending Certified Copies Requirement Under Supreme Court Rule 2.04
03-20-20: 2020-PR-024: Order Clarifying Emergency Operations from the Court Regarding Emergency Protection from Abuse and Stalking
03-18-20: 2020-PR-016: Imposing Statewide Judiciary Restricted Operations Due to COVID-19 Emergency (Links to Enrolled 2020 House Substitute for Senate Bill No. 102 and March 19, 2020, Kansas Register)
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
Individual judicial districts are also operating under difficult circumstances. Courts are still open, but many are doing it virtually. Johnson County held a webinar update yesterday that outlined their new process and procedures. Chief Judge Kelly Ryan stated that all hearing that can be done remotely should be done remotely. For those things that are not lawyers can contact the court. One change is that the courthouse is open but only one entrance.
Again, this is a district by district issue with some districts lacking the infrastructure to turn to a virtual courthouse. The Judicial Center is closed to the public but can be contacted thru other means.