The emergency order is still in place, but Gov. Laura Kelly’s emergency declaration likely will end on June 15. The Democratic Governor initially sought a 30-day extension of the emergency declaration through June 27. However, members of the Legislative Coordinating Council squashed that request agreeing to extend the order through June 15.
Today marks the 442nd day of an emergency declaration in Kansas.
Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins told members of the LCC he refused to vote for another 30-day extension.
“There’s never been any stop to this constant extension,” he said. “…Quite frankly, our people in our state are tired of the COVID pandemic. They’re tired of their liberties being infringed upon all of the time. They’re tired of the Governor’s executive orders… And I am, too. I am fed up with it.”
Eight lawmakers serve on the LCC, including six Republicans and two Democrats. Tweaks the legislature made to the Kansas Emergency Management Act back in March require the Governor to seek the LCC’s approval to extend emergency powers.
LCC members seek exit strategy from emergency
In a party-line vote, Republicans on the committee authorized an extension only through June 15 with reprimands to use the additional time to wind down emergency activities. Hawkins said when a member of the Governor’s staff approached him about agreeing to a 30-day extension, Hawkins asked if they had an exit strategy.
“He said no. They’ve made no plans,” Hawkins said.
The adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard leads part of Kansas’s COVID response, and Hawkins likened the state’s efforts to a military campaign. Kansas, he said, doesn’t have an exit strategy.
“A military operation has a beginning, an operational phase, and an end phase,” he said. “If you knew things were going to come to an end, you would already have an exit strategy, a way to stop this. And they said no.”
LCC revokes executive order limiting evictions, foreclosures
In addition to limiting the length of Kelly’s emergency declaration extension, LCC members immediately rescinded a Kelly executive order that prevented landlords from evicting tenants and stopped foreclosures.
The LCC’s Democratic members voted against the shortened extension, fearing a loss of federal emergency funds. Other states like neighboring Oklahoma and Alaska ended their emergency declarations at the end of last month and the first week of May. Questions remain over how that affected the federal cash spigot.
A January 21 memo issued to Governors from the Biden administration assured states that funding for National Guard and FEMA services will continue. And an April 7 memo from the Congressional Research Service explicitly states that cessation of state emergency declarations does not directly impact COVID-19 assistance from FEMA.
Democrats worry COVID is still out there
Kansas Democratic members of the LCC also worried about shuttering emergency services too soon.
“I wish this was something we could flip a switch and make it turn off,” said Sen. Dinah Sykes, an Overland Park Democrat and Senate Minority Leader. “I have a friend right now who is dealing with her son who just got COVID and is seriously unwell. We are not finished with this.”
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, said people are still getting sick, being hospitalized, and dying from COVID.
“My concern is we don’t want to wind this down too soon. We wait until the disease is over. The disease is still out there. Just because we want it to be gone doesn’t mean it’s gone,” he said.
Kansas’s rolling seven-day average of new COVID cases is 152 new cases per day. That’s down from a peak of 2,890 back in November. Approximately 42% of Kansans have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Nearly 40% of all intensive care unit beds in Kansas are available, and 88% of ventilators sit idle.
Senate President Ty Masterson said the statewide emergency order lasting more than 440 days has gone on long enough.
“That is more than enough time to develop an exit strategy. As Kansans return to normal, they expect us to do the same,” he said. “Today’s short-term extension provides the Governor the remaining time needed to end the emergency while also making it clear any unnecessary and burdensome executive orders will be revoked.”