Kansas Republicans continue effort to curb Democratic governor’s power amid pandemic

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, center, R-Ottawa, confers with House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, left, D-Wichita, and Rep. Les Mason, R-McPherson, during talks with senators over extending a state of emergency over the new coronavirus, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Some Republicans are upset with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's order to close schools and are looking to curb her power to deal with the pandemic. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Story updated at 5:25 p.m. Thursday

TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers on Thursday extended a state of emergency prompted by the coronavirus crisis after making sure it gave the GOP-controlled Legislature oversight over the actions of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

The Senate voted 39-0 and the House 115-0 to approve a resolution to extend the state of emergency until May 1 and to allow legislative leaders to extend it further every 30 days. Kelly declared a state of emergency last week, and without the resolution, it would have expired March 27.

But the resolution also requires legislative leaders to review all of Kelly’s executive orders and allows them to overturn many of them within days. It also prohibits Kelly from having guns and ammunition seized or blocking their sale.

Conservative Republicans were upset with an order from Kelly to close K-12 schools for the rest of the spring semester and wanted to block her from using sweeping gubernatorial powers granted to deal with short-term disasters. But Democrats said going as far as they wanted could prevent Kelly from setting up quarantine zones or taking other essential actions.

Democrats said requiring legislative leaders’ oversight is workable, though they were frustrated that conservatives moved to curb Kelly’s power.

“I just think we’ve complicated things too much, but at this particular time, we need to pass this and go on about our business,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.

Kelly’s approval wasn’t necessary for the resolution to take effect, but the governor on Thursday signed three other bills approved by lawmakers to deal with the new coronavirus. The new laws give jobless workers an additional 10 weeks of unemployment benefits, allow the courts to delay deadlines for trials and filing lawsuits and make it easier to waive a requirement for public schools to provide 186 days of in-person instruction for most schools.

The state agency that regulates alcohol sales also issued memos allowing curbside pickup at liquor stores and the sale of beer and wine in sealed containers curbside or at drive-thrus. Kelly hasn’t ordered restaurants shuttered, but some localities have.

At least 34 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Kansas, according to the state health department. The state has had one COVID-19-related death.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Separately Thursday, Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said state standardized tests will be cancelled this year because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus, unless something changes “dramatically.”

A Kansas education task force has rolled out guidelines to help school districts, teachers and parents navigate remote learning.

Also Thursday, Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids announced that she’s self-quarantining after she came into contact with another member of Congress who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Davids said in a statement that she’s following guidance from Congress’ attending physician and working from home until March 26 “out of an abundance of caution.” She said she doesn’t have symptoms.

“We all have a role to play in reducing the spread of this virus, and that means self-quarantining when appropriate,” she said.

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on LJWorld.com.

Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at: ljworld.com/coronavirus/

What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email COVID-19@ks.gov or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.


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