Various state and community leaders spoke with legislators Wednesday in a committee hearing, seeking changes or wanting to keep parts to the Kansas Emergency Management Act.
The Special Committee on the Kansas Emergency Management Act is reviewing the state’s virus response and is considering the next best steps regarding the state’s emergency management laws, including House Bill 2016, which details which powers Gov. Laura Kelly can and can’t use to respond to the pandemic.
The committee focused a big part on businesses in the morning, with Elizabeth Patton from Americans for Prosperity Kansas, a conservative political advocacy group, speaking on those issues.
Patton argued for for keeping immunity laws on the book, helping protect businesses from potentially frivolous COVID-19-related lawsuits.
They "do provide certainty to businesses, so as we have an opportunity for them to come back and rebound, that they’re able to come back stronger and better," she said.
There was also substantial talk on how certain emergency orders could potentially affect small businesses.
Rep. Stephen Owens, R-Hesston, brought up the idea of putting into statute that any business can remain open as long as they follow a specific set of criteria.
Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, was concerned about restrictions put on businesses to stay open.
"If someone was required to put certain policies in place to keep their doors open and yet they were not provided with the PPE equipment to do that, to me, more than likely there’s probably going to be some liability there," he said.
Pyle suggested later that if certain emergency orders were enforced against an entity, there should be a tax credit given to them. For example, if someone can’t pay their rent during an eviction moratorium, the property owner gets that credit.
"That’s us stepping up and saying, we reduce our revenue so that we can help people," he said.
Beyond businesses, other changes were offered.
Audrey Dunkel of the Kansas Hospital Association praised KEMA and how it has helped hospitals across the state, saying access to personal protective equipment and the system that cleans masks for reuse have been huge.
However, communication has been a big issue, she said, where deciding what information gets put out and how to get information out has been complicated.
"In regards to statute, it might be a good idea to put some directive in there to develop a communication plan with the stakeholders," she said.
Ed Klumpp, representing the Kansas Sheriffs Association and the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, asked lawmakers to re-enact misdemeanor criminal violations for violating emergency orders, specifically for more immediate disasters like wildfires or weather crises.
Klumpp agreed with keeping classification of violations of preventative health orders as civil violations, but said there needs to be a more varied approach as to what penalties are enforced for violations of certain orders in different situations.
Kansas Advocates for Better Care, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving long-term care, waded into the debate over whether to release COVID-19 outbreak information.
In its written statement, it asked Kansas release information about outbreaks by entity location.
"Anything less raises further the already high risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 for older adults and Kansans with chronic health conditions," said Mitzi McFatrich, the organization’s executive director.
The committee will go into discussion on Thursday as to how to proceed further after all hearings were finished Wednesday.