The Kansas Legislature is trying to move quickly and pass a basic operational budget that would allow essential state government services to be funded. The House approved a resolution to extend the Governor’s state of emergency declaration to allow health officials the time to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Kansas. State statute allows the Governor to declare a state of emergency for a maximum of 15 days, the finance council can extend for additional 30 days. The Legislature extended that state of emergency authority until January 2021. The Governor may move employees, equipment, and funding from one agency to another. No doubt, Kansas Department of Health and Environment will be a front-line state agency needing additional funding and help. It is going to be some very unsettled times for our great state. I have full confidence that Kansans will perform well and weather the storm.

Centers for Disease Control, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and local health partners are monitoring the novel coronavirus outbreak. As of March 13, CDC confirmed 1,629 positive cases with 41 deaths in US. Kansas has announced COVID-19 Online Resource Center to answer questions and see updates on COVID-19 cases and issues in Kansas. The KDHE website is the following: www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus; the CDC website is www.cdc.gov/coronavirus. Legislators are getting daily updates on COVID-19 issues. Our number one goal is to protect the health and safety of Kansans. This is not a political issue. This is a public health issue. Our goal is to make sure funding and cooperation is secure and in place.

The House passed House Substitute for SB 102 today by Emergency Final Action (EFA), which normally requires a 24- hour timeline between bill introduction, debate and then final vote. Sub SB 102 passed 113-5 on the floor today. This action was necessary to insure our civil liberties are not compromised during a declaration of state of emergency. The bill would create provisions stating, that not withstanding to any other provisions of law, the Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court (Chief Justice) may issue an order to extend or suspend any statutory deadlines or time limitation, or authorize the use of videoconferencing in any court proceeding, when the Chief Justice determines such action is necessary to secure the health and safety of court users, staff and judicial officials. Currently state statute requires the right to a speedy trial. A speedy trial must occur within 150 days. If the courthouse is closed due to COVID-19, potential felons could be released on the street. Other legal proceedings have mandated time lines such as statute of limitations on crimes and limitations on your ability to sue an individual. The goal would be not to release criminals or deny Kansans access to justice. If the courthouse doors are closed, someone will lose. This is but one of the issues that COVID-19 outbreak could impact. Leadership legislators are working with Kansas Board of Education to allow online credit for our students if our school close for any length of time. As you can see it is a complex process to amend state laws and mandates to allow Kansans the flexibility to weather this storm.

Your legislators are focusing on core legislation that is of highest priority just in case the Legislature may be shut down. Everyone was concerned when a fellow Representative was showing some symptoms and we may be required to shut down. Legislators in the House were held over late Friday night until we found out the Representative tested negative.

Kansans have the resolve to get through these unsettled times with a “can do” attitude of helping our neighbors and being strong in face of adversity. We also need to exercise precautions, keep our faith in God and maybe have some sense of humor. In the old days, I used to go to my neighbor and ask to borrow a cup of flour, now do you have a roll of toilet paper!

 

State Rep. Doug Blex, R-Independence, represents most of Cowley County and all of Chautauqua County. He can be reached at (785) 296-5863 or doug.blex@house.ks.gov.

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