TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — The Kansas Legislative Coordinating Council, made up of legislative leadership, voted in favor of having the full legislature return to Topeka on May 21 to complete the 2020 legislative session.
Lawmakers were last at the Statehouse in mid-March when the decision was made to recess in order to prevent lawmakers from contracting or spreading the coronavirus. It has been estimated by the Kansas Revisor’s Office that 65.5% of Kansas lawmakers fall into an ‘at risk’ category for contracting the coronavirus. This may be due to age or underlying health conditions.
Prior to the legislature’s recess, a state budget was passed. Under the Kansas Constitution, the only legal requirement that lawmakers have is to pass a yearly budget. Despite their legal obligations being complete, leadership said it is necessary to return and finish the work that had to be stopped due to the coronavirus.
“There’s really nothing off the table, although we do want to focus on things that are important in response to COVID 19,” explained Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe.
When asked if lawmakers will discuss the highly debated abortion amendment, that would give the legislature the power to regulate abortion in the state, Ryckman said he didn’t think it was likely that it would be brought back up; however, he said that Medicaid Expansion probably will.
“I’m hearing from hospitals and doctors that their bigger concern is liability issues,” added Ryckman.
One of the main concerns presented by Republican leadership is creating oversight over Governor Kelly’s decisions, including how she will manage the state budget.
“Clearly we need to come back and address emergency authorities, executive orders, the budget concerns,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
It has been projected that Kansas will lose more than one billion dollars in revenue over the next two fiscal years. This means it is likely that budget cuts will need to be made.
Under the Kansas Constitution, lawmakers must be in Topeka to discuss bills and do work, but they must be in the House and Senate chambers in order to vote. This makes it nearly impossible to properly social distance.
It was suggested that conference committees return prior to May 21 to begin work. Conference committees are small groups of legislators that represent the whole. They would meet to debate and make changes to legislation, so that the full legislature will only need to vote when they return. This would cut down on time spent in close quarters.
“It’s like a big petri dish,” said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita. “People come from all over the state, all kinds of people. It’s just not safe to do that yet.”
The 2020 session is set to end on May 21, so as of right now, the legislature’s first day back and final day of session will be on May 21. Governor Kelly or 2/3rds of the legislature can choose to call a ‘special session’ at a later date, in which the full legislature would return.