GOP ends COVID emergency in Kansas; Kelly sees ‘obstruction’

Seal Of The State Of Kansas At The Capitol Building

This morning, Senate President Ty Masterson announced the cancellation the Legislative Coordinating Council meeting.  A law enacted in late March required the legislative leaders to sign off on an extension. Masterson’s announcement means that the state of emergency will expire at the end of June 15, 2021. It’s been in place since March 2020.

Democrat Response

The governor’s chief of  staff says the state will no longer be able to use its National Guard to distribute vaccines or personal protective equipment. Democrats say addressing COVID-19 is “just going to be more difficult.”

Kelly accused Republicans of “political obstruction.” She said last week that she wanted the state of emergency to continue at least through August.

“A state disaster response has never been, and should not be, political,” Kelly said in a statement. She released the full thing on Twitter.

Republican Response

Six of the eight legislative leaders who were to meet Tuesday are Republicans. Top GOP senators’ opposed the extension.

President Masterson, Vice President Rick Wilborn and Majority Leader Larry Alley have issued the following joint statement:

“At last month’s LCC meeting, a majority of legislative leaders made it clear that June 15th was likely to be the end of the state of emergency – that after 15 months, it is time for Kansas to return to normal. As such, the LCC recommended the governor develop an exit strategy to end the emergency – however, after reviewing the governor’s letter, it appears the governor opted for an extension strategy.

“The legislature and the LCC have granted the governor every extension request over the last year, but the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19 no longer necessitate a statewide disaster emergency.  The governor has not provided adequate justification for the LCC to grant her request for yet another extension, and all remaining efforts related to COVID-19 can and should take place under our normal procedures. As such, the statewide disaster emergency will expire as planned.”

Lawrence said Kelly will find ways to keep addressing COVID-19. Top Republicans said she could manage the winding down of Kansas’ response without a state of emergency.

The Debate of an Extension

The governor and Republican lawmakers have been at odds over her administration’s response to the pandemic nearly since spring 2020. Republicans have created more limits on the governor’s power to keep the state of emergency in place.

Kelly sent top lawmakers a letter Friday outlining a plan to wind down emergency operations and said she would let seven executive orders expire.

The letter said Kelly would keep only two executive orders in place. One mandated that state-licensed nursing homes test their residents and staff regularly for COVID-19, and another granting temporary permission for medical personnel and students to give COVID-19 vaccinations.

Lawrence said if those expire, medical and nursing students and paramedics won’t be able to give COVID-19 shots. He said the state Department of Health and Environment might have the authority to issue nursing home testing.

He also said the state will lose $14.5 million a month in extra federal aid. That’s an average of $230 a month per household.

“Sixty-three thousand households in Kansas are going to be impacted by this decision very directly and pretty immediately,” Lawrence told reporters.

But top House Republicans said Kelly failed to make a strong case for continuing the state of emergency. They pointed out that she was letting most of her executive orders expire regardless.

“There are adequate medical personnel to meet the current demand for vaccines and the regular authority available to the governor under the laws of our state is sufficient to meet these needs,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., of Olathe; Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, of Ottawa, and Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said in a statement.

Kelly wanted legislative leaders to approve a 30-day extension, through July 15, the maximum allowed at one time by law. Top lawmakers refused late last month to give Kelly the maximum extension. Republicans signaled that they did not plan to grant another one.

Covid-19 Vaccinations in Kansas

Meanwhile, COVID-19 immunizations in Kansas have declined since early April. They went from a peak average of 29,380 shots a day for the first seven days of that month, to 5,523 for the seven days ending Monday. That’s according to state Department of Health and Environment data.

The department said 43.3% of the state’s 2.9 million residents or about 1.26 million people had received at least one of two shots as of Monday. The state still had nearly 584,000 unused vaccine doses after asking for only 10.2% of its federal allocation last week.