Gov. Kelly addresses bill passed by legislators to shift coronavirus-related power to lawmakers

Kansas Covid Restrictions

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas Governor Laura Kelly delivers a briefing on COVID-19 today as she faces passing or vetoing a bill that would, among other things, shift control of the state’s pandemic response from her to legislative leaders.

Today, May 22, 2020, started Phase 2 of “Ad Astra: A plan to Reopen Kansas,” a plan that has changed since it’s first release. The Associated Press reports that Republican lawmakers continue to believe that Kelly is reopening the state’s economy to slowly and that she’s been too aggressive with restrictions.

The GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature today approved a bill that includes shifting control of the state’s pandemic response from Democratic Gov. Kelly to legislative leaders. The bill was approved this morning by votes of 27-11 in the Senate and 76-34 in the House. It then went to Kelly to either sign and pass, or veto.

Gov. Kelly has accused GOP lawmakers of trying to “cram” proposal through the Legislature and Democrats were skeptical of the provisions protecting businesses, according to the Associated Press.

Gov. Kelly held a press briefing this afternoon to discuss the latest updates regarding COVID-19.

She started off by saying that she has not had time to review or reflect on the bill passed by the legislature overnight – and that she has no intentions of announcing plans this afternoon.

Kelly also expressed disappointment in the process by Republicans and detailed in her own words how the creation of these bills happened.

“This is not the time for additional layers of red tape,” stated Kelly. She also questioned legalities in the way the bill was passed. She said they had a deadline and they didn’t meet it, however, they passed it after the deadline.

In the coming days, Kelly says she plans to thoroughly review all legislation that comes to her desk and make a determination on each proposal on its merits, not the political motivations that guided it to her desk.

The KDHE then spoke saying as of today, the state of Kansas has 8,958 positive cases, an increase of 419 since Wednesday.

The state has 185 deaths, an increase of 7 deaths since Wednesday.

Health officials tell residents to exercise caution and remain vigilant going into the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The state has released “Safe Memorial Day Guidance.”

Phase 3 in Kansas is scheduled, as of today, to begin on June 8, 2020.

Watch the full press briefing above.

Other highlights of the bill (read the full 25 page bill):

  • It would shield businesses and health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits
  • The bill would extend the state of emergency through May 31, then require Kelly to get legislative leaders’ permission to extend it
  • It would require Kelly to get permission from legislative leaders to keep businesses closed for more than 15 days or to exercise other broad powers granted to governors during emergencies after May 31. Counties that could document a case for lesser restrictions could impose them
  • Legislative leaders also would have the final say over how the state spends $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds
  • Bill lessens penalties for defying orders from a misdemeanor to a civil penalty

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans pushed a sweeping coronavirus measure through the GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature on Friday, aiming to shield businesses and health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits and take control of the state’s pandemic response from Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

Some Democrats predicted Kelly would veto the bill, but her office stopped short of promising that, issuing a statement Thursday accusing GOP lawmakers of trying to “cram” measures through the Legislature without vetting them. Democrats objected to curbing Kelly’s power and predicted that substandard nursing homes and manufacturers of defective personal protective equipment would be shielded from being held accountable in the state’s courts.

The bill reflects Republicans’ view that Kelly is moving too slowly to reopen the state’s economy and has been too aggressive in imposing restrictions. She imposed a statewide stay-at-home order from March 30 until May 4 and plans to lift restrictions on businesses in phases through June 23.

Lawmakers had convened Thursday for one last day in session this year after a coronavirus-mandated break that started March 20, and they extended their last day into Friday morning to get all of their work done. Democrats noted repeatedly that Republicans were passing their bill after President Donald Trump said publicly that Kelly and Arkansas’ Republican governor have “done a fabulous job” in handling the pandemic in their states.

“When you elect someone to be your general in the fight, you fire them in the middle of the fight and replace them with a committee,” said Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat. “That’s not the way you win a war.”

The Republican plan would require Kelly to get permission from legislative leaders to keep businesses closed for more than 15 days or to exercise other broad powers granted to governors during emergencies after May 31. Counties that could document a case for lesser restrictions could impose them.

Kelly would not be allowed to order the confiscation of guns or to block their sale — steps she has never contemplated.

Also, legislative leaders also would have the final say over how the state spends $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds.

The votes for the bill were 27-11 in the Senate and 76-34 in the House and sent the measure to Kelly. Legislators adjourned their session immediately following the House vote, nearly 24 hours after they had convened.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, U.S. Senate candidate and vocal Kelly critic, argued that “financial security is just as important in our culture as health security.”

“We are here to protect Kansans’ health and to protect their pocketbooks,” Wagle said, urging colleagues to support the bill.

Kelly has said she’s open to protecting doctors, clinics and hospitals from lawsuits over decisions to delay non-coronavirus care during the pandemic. But shielding businesses from lawsuits is a priority of Republicans and business groups nationally, with Congress and other states considering it.

“There may be good defenses, but with a class-action lawsuit, the goal is not to get all the way to trial with a jury and a judge. It’s to get past the early phases of the litigation and put the pressure on the defendant to settle,” said Harold Kim, president of the Institute for Legal Reform, an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The immediate concern is the uncertainty. How do you remove this cloud of liability as businesses are trying to reopen?”

But the Working Kansas Alliance, a coalition of union groups, argued the bill could grant “total immunity” and labeled it “dangerous.”

Carmichael noted that some but not all businesses, including manufacturers of personal protective equipment and nursing homes, would be protected from lawsuits for negligence over coronavirus infections. Carmichael said a “negligent Chinese manufacturer” might have more protection than a Main Street business.

Because legislators adjourned for the year, they cannot override a Kelly veto. But Republicans hoped passing a bill would box Kelly in because her existing state of emergency, allowing her to tap broad powers for a response, remains in effect only through Memorial Day.

The bill would extend the state of emergency through May 31, then require Kelly to get legislative leaders’ permission to extend it.

If the state of emergency ends, some 30 orders that Kelly issued would expire. They include orders for a phased reopening of the state’s economy, as well as others banning evictions for people who can’t pay their rent during the pandemic and prohibiting utilities from cutting off services for customers who fall behind on their bills.

Many Democrats believe Kelly could declare another state of emergency. However, state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, issued a legal opinion late Wednesday saying that Kansas law doesn’t allow multiple declarations during the same emergency. His opinion is non-binding, but could inspire legal challenges to Kelly’s actions.

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