(Updated to reflect more details of the meeting with edits throughout)
Republican leaders in the Legislature on Thursday extended Gov. Laura Kelly’s disaster declaration for 12 days to give them time to consider limits on the governor’s emergency powers.
The State Finance Council turned down Kelly’s request to extend the disaster declaration for 30 days through June 13.
The council opted instead to extend the order through May 26. The current executive order was set to lapse at the end of the day Thursday.
The Legislature is set to convene for a final day on May 21, when lawmakers are promising to write more oversight of the governor’s emergency powers into the state’s emergency management law.
“We will not allow one dictator to determine everything,” Senate President Susan Wagle said.
“We will have a check and a balance of power and we will make sure that we move forward protecting Kansans from the virus and making sure our economy opens and people go back to work,” Wagle said.
The council’s decision immediately raised questions about what happens if the Legislature doesn’t pass legislation when it meets for a final day on May 21 and the disaster declaration expires on May 26.
Kelly urged lawmakers to be more circumspect and bide their time.
She said she was baffled why legislators would want to change the state’s emergency management law in the middle of an emergency.
“I know that some of you have concerns that some of the things that we’ve done here from the governor’s office have been extreme,” Kelly said.
“But I am very worried, having been in the Legislature for 14 years, having seen the results of legislation that gets rushed, but is not thoroughly vetted,” she said.
“How that has come back to bite us so many times before,” she said. “I am very worried that is what will happen here.”
Democratic leaders on the Finance Council – House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley – questioned whether it was doable to pass a bill in one day.
Wagle said the Senate is ready to go, adding that Attorney General Derek Schmidt is already helping lawmakers with the new legislation.
Republican leaders say that Kelly has overreached with executive orders intended to protect public heath, especially ones that have closed businesses and limited the size of attendance at religious activities.
The governor says she is trying to delicately balance the economic needs of the state with the public health needs presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a sometimes tense conference call, Republican leaders accused the governor of excluding them from her plans for addressing the pandemic, especially after she took them to court over a resolution giving them oversight of her executive orders.
“This is the most conversation that I have had and, I think, the legislators have had since this disaster started,” said Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning
“This is the first time we’ve had any meaningful discussion. It’s way, way past due,” he said.
The governor, in turn, said lawmakers wanted to pass a shortened emergency declaration to force her to sign any legislation limiting her executive powers.
“In some ways, it seems like leverage to get me to sign the bill,” Kelly said.
“It would be in your best interest to sign it,” Denning retorted. “If you don’t, then it expires.”
Kelly shot back:
“Senator, I don’t mean to sound too pompous, but my best interests are not what’s at stake here, it’s the interests of the citizens of the state of Kansas.”