Reopening Kansas: Gov. Kelly returns control to county officials

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas Governor Laura Kelly vetoes House Bill 2054, which would have limited her emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic. She’s also returning control to reopen to county health authorities as of tomorrow.

(Read more on the bill: Gov. Kelly addresses bill passed by legislators to shift coronavirus-related power to lawmakers)

Gov. Kelly started today’s briefing hoping everyone had a good weekend. She quickly moved onto speaking about House Bill 2054.

Last Friday, she expressed her concerns about actions taken by legislators to quickly, and unconstitutionally pass this bill.

Today, she decided to veto the bill. Kelly said passing it would have long-standing consequences on the people of Kansas as the state fights COVID-19.

During her briefing, she discussed one thing that would have been limited in the bill, the platform her COVID-19-related orders have been built on – an Emergency Declaration. She said without the declaration, critical FEMA funding and other assistance will expire. Kelly says the declaration also helps health officials and emergency managers across the state coordinate.

She wants to make sure the state has an emergency declaration in place, allowing officials to best help residents statewide. After 15 days, any extension needs to be approved by full legislature or the state finance council.

Kelly says she’s issuing a new emergency declaration necessary to help protect Kansans from economic disaster and prevent the threat of COVID-19 surges. The new declaration will end midnight, June 19.

Governor Kelly is removing the statewide stay-at-home order, Ad Astra, and giving control to each county in the state.

The Ad Astra reopen plan will still be given as guidance to each county, but regulations will essentially be up to the county officials who can issue their own emergency declaration.

Because of the June 19 expiration of the state’s latest declaration, Kelly is calling legislators back for a session to extend the deadline.

Kelly also wanted to let Kansas residents know that, “We are flattening the curve.” She thanked those who are helping to keep others safe.

You can watch her full briefing above, or on Governor Laura Kelly’s Facebook Page.

Read more about what the new declaration means: Governor signs disaster declaration, gives details of what it entails

The Kansas Chamber released a reaction that in part states, “The Kansas Chamber and its members are disappointed Gov. Kelly vetoed HB 2054. While not perfect, this legislation would have provided certainty for Kansans and for the state’s business community during these uncertain times,” said Chamber President and CEO Alan Cobb. “It is our hope Gov. Kelly and the Kansas Legislature work quickly together during the special session to resolve the issues between them and provide Kansans and the state’s business community the assurances needed to safely move our economy forward.”

AP ARTICLE By JOHN D. HANNA Associated Press:

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ Democratic governor on Tuesday vetoed a sweeping coronavirus measure passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, ratcheting up a partisan dispute over her response to the pandemic and possibly setting up a court fight over her power to direct it.

Gov. Laura Kelly not only vetoed the measure approved by lawmakers in the last moments of their 2020 session to curb her emergency powers, but promised to issue a new emergency declaration to replace one that was set to expire. Many Republicans believe she doesn’t have the legal authority to do that.

Kelly also is heightening the conflict by calling the Legislature back into special session on June 3 to tackle coronavirus measures.

The bill was meant to shield businesses and health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits and take control of the state’s pandemic response from Gov. Laura Kelly, including decisions about how to spend $1.25 billion in federal relief funds.

The lawmakers’ last day in session lasted 24 hours straight. Kelly has called it the “most embarrassing, irresponsible display of government that we have witnessed throughout this ordeal.”

“The process was messy, confusing and complicated but it didn’t have to be,” Kelly said during a news conference Tuesday.

Democrats had objected to curbing Kelly’s power and shielding substandard nursing homes and manufacturers of defective personal protective equipment from liability.

Republicans believe Kelly has moved too slowly to reopen the state’s economy and has too aggressively imposed 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.

Kelly joined fellow Democratic governors in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in facing a strong backlash from Republicans over their handling of the pandemic. The others govern in swing states important to President Donald Trump’s reelection, but he won Kansas handily in 2016 and is expected to carry it again this year.

The bill approved Friday required 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.

Shielding businesses from lawsuits is a priority of Republicans and business groups nationally. Unions said the bill could grant “total immunity” and called it dangerous.

Because legislators adjourned for the year, they cannot override a Kelly veto. Republicans had hoped that passing a bill would box Kelly in because her existing state of emergency was set to expire Tuesday.

The bill would have extended the state of emergency through May 31, then required Kelly to seek permission from the Legislature to extend it.

If the state of emergency had ended, some 30 orders that Kelly issued would expire, including those banning evictions for people who can’t pay their rent during the pandemic and prohibiting utility cutoffs.

State Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, issued a legal opinion last week saying Kansas law doesn’t allow multiple declarations during the same emergency. His opinion is non-binding, but could fuel legal challenges.

The state’s top health official meanwhile urged Kansans who joined large gatherings at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks during the Memorial Day weekend to self-quarantine for 14 days to prevent spreading the coronavirus.

Social media posts showed large crowds at pools, bars and restaurants near the lake without any social distancing or masks.

“The reckless behavior displayed during this weekend risks setting our community back substantially for the progress we’ve already made in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “If you traveled to Lake of the Ozarks over the weekend, we urge you to act responsibly and self-quarantine to protect your neighbors, coworkers and family.”