Kelly issues systematic rebuke of Legislature’s 24-hour session that ended in weakening of her powers

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks at a news conference on Friday, My 22, 2020, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

Just six hours after the Kansas legislature adjourned from a marathon 24-hour session that culminated in the passage of a bill weakening her ability to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Laura Kelly said Friday the actions of a select group of legislators were “simply indefensible.”

While saying she still needed time to review the many pieces of legislation pushed through the Legislature in the early-morning hours, Kelly’s tone indicated that vetoes were on the table.

“In the weeks leading up to (May 21), a small number of Republican legislative leaders crafted a series of self-serving and frankly dangerous pieces of legislation behind closed doors and in the offices of special interest groups,” Kelly said.

“It was an unprecedented and outstanding demonstration of the dysfunction of our Legislature, unlike anything I saw during my 14 years in the Senate,” she continued.

Kelly was clear that in the coming days she would evaluate all legislation passed Thursday night and Friday morning on its merits, not the political motivations that may have been present, before deciding whether to sign it into law or to issue a veto.

But, she said, when such broad and powerful legislation is passed through legislative chambers so quickly and without proper vetting, it “culminates in a perfect recipe for unintended consequences.”

“Kansans are hurting. Kansas businesses need help. This is not the time for additional layers of red tape,” she said. “The losers of this ordeal will be the people of Kansas.”

The plan related to emergency powers that now sits on Kelly’s desk would require the governor to get permission from legislative leaders to keep businesses closed for more than 15 days after the current state of emergency expires on May 31.

She would also need permission to exercise the broad powers typically granted to governors in a state of emergency, which could add layers of gridlock to the next steps of Kelly’s plan to reopen the Kansas economy — which currently aren’t scheduled to start until June 1.

The whirlwind 30-hour period ended as the state Department of Health and Environment announced that since Wednesday Kansas had confirmed another 419 cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s cumulative total to 8,958 cases.

Kansas also confirmed seven more deaths attributed to the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 185.

KDHE Secretary Dr. Lee Norman said Friday the state was tracking 99 outbreaks of the virus, of which 48 are closed — or no longer active.

Those outbreaks have accounted for 4,560 of Kansas’ COVID-19 cases, 133 of the state’s deaths, and can be traced to the following locations:

• 40 from private gatherings, 21 of which are closed, resulting in 343 cases and three deaths;

• 26 from long-term care facilities, 13 of which are closed, resulting in 126 cases and 11 deaths;

• 10 from meatpacking plants, resulting in 2,398 cases and seven deaths;

• 10 from religious gatherings, eight of which are closed, resulting in 126 cases and 11 deaths;

• Seven from group living arrangements, five of which are closed, resulting in 68 cases and two deaths;

• Three from correctional facilities, resulting in 971 cases and six deaths;

• Three from health care facilities, all of which are closed, which resulted in 22 cases and zero deaths.

Ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, Norman encouraged Kansans to continue to be cautious if they choose to gather with other people, and he highlighted the importance of wearing a mask any time someone is outside of a controlled environment.

“What’s particularly critical for people to remember is that when you’re outside without a mask, you don’t really control your world,” he said.


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