Senate limits governor’s emergency powers

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An increasingly apprehensive Kanas Legislature is taking steps to rein in Gov. Laura Kelly’s emergency powers to react to the threat of the coronavirus.

The Kansas Senate passed a resolution that shortens the time frame for her emergency declaration to May 1 from the original date of Jan. 25, 2021.

Leading lawmakers would still have the ability to extend the deadline for 30 days at a time.

The Senate added an amendment to the resolution that critics said severely restricts the governor’s power to respond to the coronavirus pandemic gradually gaining a foothold in Kansas.

The resolution says the governor shall not have the power to perform and exercise “powers and duties as necessary to promote and secure the safety of the civilian population.”

The resolution, passed in the Senate on a 37-2 vote, also would bar the governor from seizing guns and ammunition.

It also would prevent the governor from taking local government funds and private property to respond to the public health emergency.

The bill was sent back to the House, which already passed the resolution.

The House refused to go along with the Senate’s version and  sent it to a conference committee.

The action in the Senate came less than a day after the governor ordered schools closed and ordered banks to stop mortgage foreclosures and evictions.

“I think it’s apparent from our body’s reaction that there are concerns about the powers that are being used under emergency declaration and how those might be applied going into the future,” said Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine.

“There’s a lot of unrest and uneasiness about the future,” Longbine said.  “A lot if it is the Legislature hasn’t had a lot of input into some of the decisions that have been made.”

Senators were particularly bothered by governor’s decision on Monday to shut down schools.

“I believe we’re panicking before we know what we need to do next,” said Republican Sen. Rob Olson.

“She’s done a few executive orders now. What’s the next one she’s going to do,” he said.

Others were bothered by the governor’s decision stopping mortgage foreclosures, saying she is going beyond public health.

“We can help with financial relief legislation, but must remain respectful of the basic economic foundation, which makes our country an economic world leader,” Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley denounced an amendment by Republican Sen. Caryn Tyson that he said would keep the governor from taking the precautions needed to address the growing health crisis.

He called it “politics of the worst kind.”

Tyson said she’s not playing politics with the governor’s emergency powers.

“We need to make sure as a legislative body that we are not overreacting in this time,” Tyson said.

She said her amendment was about placing selective limits on the governor powers.

“I don’t think this was political,” Tyson said. “The debate made it political.