COVID-19 update: 9,337 cases, and 205 deaths in Kansas at the time of this writing. Cases have been identified in 88 of the 105 counties in Kansas. The Memorial Day saw a considerable amount of family gatherings and a few social events. Kansans are just ready to get out of the house and be social. I attended a graveside service for my cousin today and there were nearly 150 people scattered out around the service. I suspect being outdoors in the sunlight helped their confidence. I believe people want to achieve some resemblance of “normal.” It is difficult not to say goodbye to a loved one.
The Legislature completed sine die last Thursday. We arrived on the House floor at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday and we adjourned at 8 a.m. on Friday morning. Most of the time was waiting on the Kansas Senate to concur or not on the bills. This is a process where six people, three from the House and three from the Senate set down and work out differences between the chambers. Most of the time it is bargaining minor changes. If six people cannot agree, then we vote on agree or disagree and then the bill only requires four signatures to pass. It was a difficult process this year.
The main issue was the spending authority of the $1.2 billion federal CARES Act funding that has come to Kansas. Governor wanted exclusive authority with a “hand-picked” advisory board without Legislative oversight. House and Senate Republicans were not about to allow that process. Early Friday morning HB 2054 passed with 78 votes. The House had earlier suspended the rules to be able to conduct business after the “midnight rule” passed a few years earlier. There was discussion if the process would be constitutional, at that point after nearly 24 hours on the floor, people were a little testy. The bulk of the issue was who has the authority to determine how the federal funds will be spent.
HB 2054 also restricted some of the authority in Governor Kelly’s EOs. It demanded a supermajority of legislative leaders on the State Finance Council approve emergency actions. Governor Kelly vetoed HB 2054 and now a special session will be called to bring all legislators and staff back on June 3 for a two-day session. Her veto will eliminate some very important provisions of the bill, such as amendments to the state unemployment insurance, state worker’s compensation, telemedicine insurance coverage, hospital and first-responders immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits and jeopardize some federal funding.
The Governor issued another EO 20-42 to continue to allow curbside liquor sales until June 13. Governor Kelly’s new EO will remove all the Phase-In processes and allow the local counties to develop their own COVID-19 restrictions. All businesses and churches will apparently be allowed to open, at their full capacity with none of the regulations she had previously put in place mandating social distancing or other actions to slow the COVID-19 virus. However, each county health officer may place individual restrictions as they see fit.
This is a curse and blessing. The blessing is local decisions are usually better, the curse is the Governor’s veto created mass confusion across the state. Sedgwick County held a meeting today to decide whether to extend restrictions or open back up. Stay tuned to your local news, because changes will occur. Those of you that have been following my newsletters know that I have been a strong advocate of “herd immunity.” Nothing has changed my mind on that concept. The economic damage to our state and business communities has been devastating. Department of Labor said PUA checks are going out starting on May 25.
The special session will be interesting on who wins the power struggle. Fellow Kansans need to be the winners. Our lives will take a while to get back to normal again. Kansans do have the resolve to get through these unsettled times. I will continue to oppose EOs that infringe on our constitutional rights. Pray for me to have wisdom to make the best decision for fellow Kansans. Keep our faith in God.
State Rep. Doug Blex, R-Independence, represents most of rural Cowley County and all of Chautauqua County. He can be reached at (785) 296-5863 or firstname.lastname@example.org.