Gov. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, seeks to extend an emergency declaration through the end of August. However, members of the Legislative Coordinating Council approve declaration extensions, and their appetite for continuing the emergency wanes.
The eight-member LCC includes six Republicans and two Democrats. At its last meeting, Kelly requested extending the emergency order through June 30. The LCC extended it only through June 15 on a party-line vote.
During that meeting, House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said he refused to agree to another 30-day extension. He voted for the 15-day extension asking that the Governor use the time to wind down emergency activities.
“Quite frankly, our people in our state are tired of the COVID pandemic. They’re tired of their liberties being infringed up all of the time. They’re tired of the Governor’s executive orders,” he said. “…And I am, too. I am fed up with it.”
Kelly wants another 76 days
Today marks day 459 of Kansas’s COVID emergency declaration, which Kelly initiated in March 2020. Declaring an emergency gives Kelly the authority to issue executive orders related to the emergency and to draw down federal funding for emergency-related services. She told reporters in a press conference last week that the emergency declaration needs to be extended for another 76 days for a host of reasons.
“So what’s the emergency?” Sen. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, would like to know. “We gave her two weeks to get her act together, and it’s time to pull the plug.”
Claeys doesn’t serve on the LCC. However, Sen. Richard Wilborn does.
“I sure lean strongly to not extending,” he said.
Wilborn stressed that isn’t a final decision. But he said his constituent emails run 20-1 in favor of allowing the emergency declaration to expire.
At the May 29 LCC meeting, lawmakers expressed interest in negotiating with the Governor to extend the emergency in exchange for ending a federal supplemental to unemployment benefits. However, the administration refused, though a handful of other states allowed the extended benefits to expire.
Extension allows state to jab more kids with COVID vaccine, Kelly says
In a letter to the LCC, Kelly said she seeks the extension to vaccinate more children. As of June 11, 20.1% of Kansas kids between the ages of 12 and 17 received vaccinations. She wrote that she anticipates vaccinating up to 118,000 more kids by the end of August.
“There was a notable decline in the rate of children vaccinations as school ended for the summer,” she wrote. “Vaccination planned around the back to school period of early to mid-August will greatly increase the vaccinations for this age group.”
Some experts, however, are warning parents to pause vaccinating children, and a CDC advisory panel will host an emergency meeting this week to discuss a possible link between COVID vaccines and heart inflammation.
In addition to jabbing more kids, Kelly said extending the order will allow the state to distribute and administer the vaccine through mobile clinics. It will also allow the state to fulfill requests from hospitals and counties for personal protective equipment. She also said the order allows the state to continue requiring COVID testing in nursing homes.
She said her administration worked diligently to pare down the number of pandemic emergency executive orders. Currently, nine remain, but Kelly said she will rescind all but two of those today, June 14.
With an emergency extension, two remain in place. One requires COVID testing in certain state-licensed nursing homes. Another grants temporary authority for traveling nurses to administer COVID vaccinations.
Kelly makes no promises about seeking additional extensions
Now is not the time to conclude the emergency response and transition to a new normal, she wrote. Though the letter says the correct date to end the declaration is August 30, she does not say she will not ask for additional extensions.
“While COVID-19 could become an ever-present threat to public health if vaccination rates continue to decline, our emergency response will not be permanent,” she said.
According to KDHE, 37% of Kansans are fully vaccinated, and 43% received at least one dose of vaccine. Nearly a third of all ICU hospital beds are open across the state, Positivity rates are down and COVID hospitalizations overall are also declining.