Lawmakers discuss emergency powers when legislature not in session

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Some lawmakers say the governor has too much authority during the coronavirus pandemic and they want to get their power back.

Members of the Special Committee on Kansas Emergency Management Act came up with recommendations to make the act work better in a situation like the crisis we’re in.

When the legislature is out of session, typically from the summer through December, legislative leaders take on the roll of deciding things.

During the current outbreak, if the governor wants to extend the coronavirus state of emergency and continue her executive orders, like she did earlier this month, she has to get approval by the State Finance Council.

But during the state of emergency, lawmakers cannot vote whether to approve many of the governor’s executive orders because of the bill they passed earlier in the year.

The council is made up of nine members. Four of the members are from Sedgwick County, two serve in Johnson County, and one in Shawnee County. The governor, also from Shawnee County, has a seat on the council.

Only one member comes from the western half of the state, and that’s Representative Troy Waymaster from Bunker Hill.

Some lawmakers want to include people from a broader geographic area.

“How do we ensure statewide representation, how do we have more voices on that council that serves in the place of the legislature when we’re not here,” said chair of the committee Fred Patton, a Topeka Representative.

Lawmakers considered forming a new council with members from across the state next year. The governor could be required to get approval from the council on executive orders like deadline extensions, mask mandates and closing businesses.

The committee also discussed what length of time the governor could extend a future emergency and executive orders that go with it, and how the council could have the power to approve or disapprove the measures.

“The concern is really not how long an emergency lasts, because that really dictates how long can another level of government be providing support, so the concern is how long do the orders last,” said Lawrence Senator Marci Francisco.

Lawmakers also discussed making a governor bring back the full legislature if future emergencies last for an extended period of time. Overall the idea is to have a more diverse group of voices deciding how the state should act during an emergency.

“Initially for any disaster, the governor has the power to go in and solve the flooding or ramification of a tornado, but when it’s something that drags on for months, then maybe there needs to be a little bit more oversight,” Patton said.

The ideas could be voted on next legislative session in January.

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