Governor vetoes state coronavirus bill, giving counties authority on social distancing and restrictions


(KSNT Photo/Kelli Peltier)

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Governor Laura Kelly has vetoed a bill she said would have longstanding impacts in the fight against coronavirus. The movement removes her Ad Astra reopening plan and leaves all decisions on social distancing and business restrictions up to each individual county health officer.

Kelly said her office would provide guidance to counties for moving forward.

The governor also called all lawmakers to return to session June 3 for a special session to address the pandemic.

Kelly said it’s common for governors to announce state disaster declarations, but that her Republican opponents were being “short-sighted” by removing her ability to address the pandemic. Lawmakers passed the bill during a marathon wrap-up session that lasted more than 24 hours last week.

The House of Representatives leadership responded to Kelly’s veto. Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe), Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (R-Olathe) and Speaker Pro Term Blaine Finch (R-Ottawa) issued the following statement:

In times of crisis and fear, leaders have an obligation to provide stability and take steps to protect the people they serve. Unfortunately, the actions taken today with a veto of HB 2054 do nothing but create more uncertainty and less stability for Kansas.

Sadly, this has become routine. From the unnecessary lawsuit filed by the governor’s attorneys that jeopardized the first disaster declaration, an unemployment system that leaves those out of work guessing on when or if they will be paid, to a statewide four phase plan that went from Phase 1 to Phase 1.5 to Phase 1.75/modified Phase 2 and then was suddenly, and with no warning, scrapped this afternoon, the one thing Kansans have not had is stability.

State of Kansas House of Representatives leadership

The statement went on to say:

The legislature came together on May 21 to work together to pass HB 2054. This bill provided stability and predictability by:

  • Ratifying all previous disaster declarations so there would be no gap in coverage and no risk of losing federal stimulus dollars
  • Provided a means to extend the disaster declaration using the same mechanism already in the law for animal pandemics but with an easier standard of 6 of 8 votes instead of 8 of 8 as is required now
  • Modernized our emergency management law to address legal concerns raised by the Attorney General
  • Protected vulnerable nursing home residents with stronger inspections than what the administration has been providing and better access to protective equipment
  • Gave flexibility to our hospitals and frontline healthcare workers to respond to this pandemic using technology and cut through red tape to increase access to care by increasing the availability of tele-healthcare
  • Added liability protections to give our healthcare workers and first responders protection from Covid-19 lawsuits
  • Restored constitutional balance for the use of federal stimulus funds which requires the legislative branch to budget money with the advice of the governor
  • Put recent changes to the unemployment system in statute, such as waiving the one week waiting period, extending benefits to 26 weeks, and ensuring Kansans did not lose their federal unemployment funds
  • Changing criminal penalties to civil remedies so Kansans don’t face jail time for violating one of over 30 sometimes conflicting executive orders

The veto of this legislation creates unnecessary confusion about the status of the current disaster declaration, what orders are still in place, and what Kansans can expect going forward. They deserve better than that and we will continue to work with all parties in state and local government to provide it.

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