Sep 11, 2020 9:30 PM

Kan. emergency declaration will continue for another month

Posted Sep 11, 2020 9:30 PM
Gov. Laura Kelly as she finished her Thursday news conference.
Gov. Laura Kelly as she finished her Thursday news conference.

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A mostly Republican state council voted Friday to extend Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s emergency declaration providing services to combat the coronavirus in Kansas, but only after language was added clarifying that the governor doesn’t intend to use her authority to close businesses as she did in the spring.

The State Finance Council’s unanimous vote came after a lengthy, contentious meeting during which Kelly, a Democrat, and the GOP members accused each other of playing politics with the declaration.

The resolution, which had been scheduled to expire Tuesday, will now be in effect until at least Oct. 31, when Kelly could seek another extension.

Kelly and Adjutant General David Weishaar warned before the vote that letting the declaration expire would stop the state from providing many services, including the delivery of personal protective equipment and assistance with community-based testing.

Republican members insisted on stipulating that the extension had to clarify that Kelly would not close businesses as she did in April.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, said conditions have changed since the early days of the pandemic and that residents need to know the governor’s and lawmakers’ intentions to “calm everything down.”

“We need to let the folks back home, the businesses, know that we have no intention of shutting down and if there’s a hot spot, the local folks will handle that hot spot. ... They’re not comfortable right now, they’ve lived through a nightmare. And we need to give the some common sense assurance,” he said.

Kelly said repeatedly during the meeting that she would not order businesses to close again because state and health officials have better data, information and procedures than they did in the spring and most businesses had cooperated with efforts to slow the virus.

When GOP members continued to push for new language in the resolution, Kelly accused them of using the issue for political gain in an election year, rather than ensuring the state can continue to provide services without interruption.

“There is so much at stake here,” she said. “Please do not let your ideology or your dislike for me as governor or the fact that I’m a Democrat (affect the vote). Please, let’s vote for the people, let’s not vote for politics.”

At a news conference after the meeting, House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. said the inserted language was important.

“We’ve got to a situation where we’re picking winners and losers, determined who was essential and who wasn’t, allowing a lot of our large stores remain open when our small ones couldn’t. We couldn’t have that repeated,” Ryckman said.

Some Republicans accused Kelly of breaking rules by vetoing a motion that sought to add different language to the declaration.

Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who attended the news conference, said he’s “sure there will be a large group of lawyers” looking into whether Kelly’s veto was legal.

As of Friday, Kansas health officials had reported 48,386 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 511 deaths from the disease since the start of the pandemic.

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Topeka — The two hour State Finance Council meeting lasted much longer than expected. The republican members of the committee forced the governor to include language in the declaration that confirms she would not close businesses again.

 The language written during a recess by the governor's attorney Clay Britton said, "Any restrictions regarding closure of businesses in the Kansas Emergency Management Act remain in place to the extent described in the Kansas Emergency Management Act and it is the governors intention not to use her authority to close businesses."

With that language, the council voted unanimously to extend the declaration until October 15.  It was set to expire on Tuesday.

When asked for her vote, Senator Susan Wagle criticized the governor on how she chaired the meeting and "broke rules."

Kelly did not respond.

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Topeka — The State Finance Council meeting on whether to extend the current COVID-19 emergency declaration is in its third hour. The issue involves including language in the declaration that assures the republican members of the committee the governor won't shut down businesses again.

Click here to listen to the meeting that resumed at 1p.m.

Republican Senator Jim Denning asked the governor's attorney if there is language they can agree on that says Kelly absolutely won't exercise power to close businesses.

Despite refusing the suggestion earlier Friday, Kelly said she is comfortable including such language. The committee went into recess until just after 1p.m. to give the state's chief counsel time to draft language for consideration.

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Topeka —The State Finance Council meeting on whether to extend the current COVID-19 emergency declaration lasted  longer than the original scheduled two hours.

Click here to listen to the meeting that resumes at noon.

The discussion centered around asking the governor to include language in the declaration that would prevent Kelly from shutting down business again. The governor said she does not intend to shut down businesses again and refused to include the language. 

Senate president Susan Wagle wanted to delay the vote until the council could meet in person on Monday afternoon. Not all members of the council were able to fit that meeting into their schedules. Wagle then suggested the council return at 3p.m. Friday after getting legal assistance on the discussion.

After several attempts to vote on various motions, the governor asked the council to  vote for the people and not play politics.  She then asked for a 30 minute recess and return at noon.

Kelly warned Thursday that if the extension isn't granted, Kansans will not be able to access services they need to ensure their health and safety.

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Topeka, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will face a dramatic reduction in coronavirus-related services that would put residents’ lives at risk if a state council does not approve extending a state disaster declaration, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said Thursday.

The State Finance Council, which is dominated by Republicans, is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss extending the declaration before it expires on Tuesday.

Click here to listen to the meeting that begins at 10a.m.

Failure to extend the declaration will prevent the state from leveraging critical resources, Kelly said at a news conference.

“In other words, these nine members of the State Finance Council will effectively decide if the nearly 3 million people living in our state will be able to access the tools they need to stay healthy, stay fed, stay in their homes as the virus continues to rage around us,” the Democratic governor said.

Kansas Adjutant General David Weishaar, who oversees the state’s emergency response, detailed how several emergency agencies have provided services throughout the pandemic, which he said would end if the declaration is not extended.

He said extending the declaration would ensure “uninterrupted deployment” of several services, such personal protective equipment, meals packed for food banks, and community-based testing. And the state emergency command center, which is currently staffed seven days a week, would be cut back to a staff duty officer answering calls if the declaration is not extended, he said

Kelly said Deborah Birx, a top coronavirus advisor for the White House, told her and several local health and elected officials Thursday that Kansas remains a red zone for coronavirus cases and is eighth in the nation in positivity in COVID-19 cases. Birx urged the officials to impose mitigation efforts, which she said is the only way to contain the virus until a vaccine is approved.

A spokeswoman for Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican, said she would not respond to the governor’s comment until Friday’s meeting.

Kelly said forcing state and local governments to further reduce their budgets when revenue has already dropped will hamper the state’s coronavirus response and make Kansas more vulnerable in future crises.

“We will need significantly more support from our federal partners to protect our institutions from drastic and damaging cuts,” Kelly said.

Earlier Thursday, Kelly testified remotely before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee that the state faces “drastic and damaging” cuts if the federal government does not provide more funds in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Governor Laura Kelly during her virtual testimony Thursday
Governor Laura Kelly during her virtual testimony Thursday

Kansas has already received $1.2 billion in aid, which generally must be used for pandemic-related needs, not to help overall budgets.