Kansas Senate passes emergency response act, limiting Gov. Kelly’s powers

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT)— Kansas lawmakers took final action on a controversial bill that would further limit the powers of the governor during the pandemic.

A veto-proof majority of Kansas senate republicans voted to pass their version of an emergency response bill on Monday.

The measure, Senate Bill 273, limits the powers of the governor’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Governor Laura Kelly issued a statement in an email on Monday, responding to the vote.

“Senate Bill 273 jeopardizes the state’s ability to respond swiftly and effectively to disasters and emergencies,” Gov. Kelly wrote. “The Legislature’s role in an emergency is oversight, not inserting itself into the decision-making process. I won’t hesitate to veto any bill that slows or undermines my ability to respond to a crisis and save lives.”

The act would not extend the state’s emergency declaration set to expire at the end of March. According to the governor, allowing it to expire would prevent the administration from supplying food banks, transporting test specimens to labs, and delivering the COVID-19 vaccine or personal protective equipment.

“I call on the Legislature to extend the current disaster declaration beyond the March 31 deadline now to avoid that risk,” Kelly wrote.

However, some Kansas GOP lawmakers see it as a way of making sure they strike a balance between allowing the government to act and protecting individual rights.

“I think it’s to give people as much freedom in this situation as possible but to still address the public safety needs,” Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, told Kansas Capitol Bureau.

Senator Kellie Warren, R-Leawood, who chairs the state’s Judiciary Committee and carried the bill on Monday, said the bill represents an attempt to address several issues that arose in the past year, creating an adequate response that is not apparent in current state law.

“This legislation strikes that balance,” Warren said. “It modernizes our statues, provides the governor the ability to address any public health crisis, establishes a system of checks and balances, protects the rights of the people, and ensures the buck always stops with elected officials.”

However, senate democrats pushed back during the hearing, fearing the act would only slow down the administration’s ability to respond effectively in a time of crisis.

“I think that we elected the governor, we need to trust in her to do what’s right for all Kansans,” said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita. “I would ask that if the governor was of another political party, ‘would we even have this legislation?'”

Both the state Senate and House are have their own versions of the bill.

The House is holding committee hearings on their version of the bill before bringing it to the floor for a vote.

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