When the Kansas Legislature gavels in Wednesday, it needs to focus on building consensus with all parties — Republicans, Democrats, attorney general and governor — regarding modifications to the Kansas Emergency Management Act that enable, not further limit, the governor’s ability to enact an emergency declaration during the pandemic.
At the onset of COVID-19, the House passed a resolution that gave the governor the ability to execute emergency powers into January 2021. This would have provided the time needed to see the state through a possible second wave and ensured Kansas wasn’t jeopardizing any federal recovery funds.
The Senate rejected the measure and put together a convoluted resolution that gave the Legislative Coordinating Council the power to approve or deny executive orders issued by the governor. But the process didn’t hold muster with the Supreme Court.
Without legislative approval, the governor can declare an emergency for 15 days and the State Finance Council can extend it for an additional 30 days. That’s why Kansas finds its Legislature reconvening for a special session at the governor’s request.
"I need authority for longer disaster declarations which will allow me to issue executive orders to provide support, quick support, to our governments and to the economy," Gov. Kelly said earlier this week.
There’s concern that without an active emergency declaration, federal aid available to address the recovery will not come to Kansas as quickly, if at all.
The Emergency Management Act has served Kansas for 45 years but has never been tested by an ongoing pandemic. Generally, emergencies are declared for massive wildfires, floods and tornadoes. There’s no doubt the EMA needs assessment and review to account for how best to handle long-term disasters with prudence toward the fair balance of power and accountability.
House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch suggested during an LCC meeting in April that reviewing and rewriting the EMA was not something that should be rushed, suggesting the Legislature take it up during the interim and bring forth a solution for review in the 2021 session. But House and Senate leadership instead attempted to push through reform during the 24-hour veto session that resulted in the governor’s veto.
As the Legislature begins the process, partisanship and politics should be left at the door. It’s time to negotiate reasonable solutions that protect the ability of the current governor — and any future governor — to take swift action on the state’s behalf in an emergency that may span several months.
Anything else is politics, and that doesn’t help any Kansan.