Lawmakers approve shortened emergency extension

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Legislative leaders on Friday agreed to extend the governor’s emergency COVID-19 declaration until June 15 and revoke an executive order prohibiting evictions and foreclosures.

The Legislative Coordinating Council voted 6-2 for the extension and turned aside the governor’s request for an extension through June 27.  The governor’s current extension was set to lapse on Friday.

Republican lawmakers have expressed frustration over repeated requests from the governor during the pandemic to extend the emergency disaster declaration.

The previous emergency management law was never created to address a long-term emergency crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to repeated requests in the last year for extensions.

The Legislature this year passed a bill extending the ongoing emergency declaration  until Friday, giving lawmakers the power to approve an extension for a period of not more than 30 days.

“I’m pretty much fed up with it,” House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said of the repeated extensions. “I’m done with extensions.”

Hawkins said he was unhappy that there didn’t appear to be any efforts by Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration to bring the emergency disaster declaration to an end.

Dan Hawkins

“They made no plans and they’ve known about (the new deadline) for a month and a half,” Hawkins said.

“You would have thought if you knew things were going to come to an end that you already would have had an exit strategy,” he said.

“There’s been no planning and all they do is just keep things going and going and going,” he said.

Democrats said ending the emergency declaration was premature and would put federal funds for dealing with the pandemic in jeopardy.

“We are not finished with this,” said Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes.

“To completely flip the switch and say this is over, I think is ridiculous,” she said. “It is not in the best interest of our state.

“For us to say this is over, we are being completely irresponsible,” she said.

Dinah Sykes

Sykes warned that the state could lose federal aid for addressing the ongoing pandemic, an issue that Republicans challenged.

“With all due respect, there are unanswered questions about whether that money will still flow,” said Senate President Ty Masterson.

Masterson said lawmakers were not trying to signal to the public that the pandemic is over.

“What we’re saying right now, is that not that it’s over, but it needs to be a short extension with an exit strategy that everybody can understand,” he said.

Kelly’s spokeswoman Reeves Oyster said in a statement that the governor had left it to Maj. Gen. David Weishaar to map out the best approach for addressing the COVID-19 emergency facing the state.

He has “been clear about the importance of this disaster declaration. It is central to how we get Kansas back to normal. We cannot put our recovery at risk,” Oyster said.

Oyster said the governor strongly disagrees with the decision to end the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.

“As we finally start to recover from this global pandemic, now is not the time to kick people out of their homes,” she said.

“Gov. Kelly will continue to focus on doing what’s right – and not what’s politically convenient,” she said.

Kansas Democrats criticized Republican leaders for revoking the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.

“This decision is cruel and punitive, bad for our recovering workforce, and devastating for vulnerable families,” Democratic Party Chair Vicki Hiatt said in a statement.

“Kansans will remember that when they needed help the most, Republicans turned their backs to score cheap political points,” she said.

The governor warned that the state’s efforts to recover from the pandemic would be at risk if the emergency declaration was not extended.

Among other things, the governor said the state’s emergency operations center would have to close and the state adjutant general and the Department of Emergency Management would not be able to assign other state agencies to undertake emergency response efforts.

She also said the emergency management warehouse – key for distribution of emergency equipment – would cease operations as well.

The governor still has 11 executive orders in place even after lawmakers agreed to end the one relating to foreclosures.

Those executive orders – including ones requiring COVID-19 testing in adult care homes, extending the terms of driver’s licenses, and waiving the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits – will expire June 15 when the emergency disaster declaration lapses.