Rahjes Report - March 16, 2020

Hello from Topeka!  Yes, as of the time I am writing this column we are still in session. The Kansas House moved quickly late last week to prioritize a basic budget and implement emergency plans as a preventive measure amid Coronavirus concerns. With several  COVID-19 cases confirmed, it has prompting the Governor to encourage many school districts and public entities to implement temporary closures to reduce exposure.

The current number of cases in Kansas will be posted and updated daily on KDHE’s website, and click “COVID-19 Public Update.” Labs throughout the state are testing for COVID-19.  KDHE will continue to report and announce results from labs for Kansas cases. Please note that the impact of COVID-19 is evolving, and it is encouraged that you visit KDHE’s and the CDC’s websites for the most accurate and up-to-date information:

KDHE COVID-19 Fact Sheet: http://www.kdhe.ks.gov/coronavirus/download/COVID-19_One_Pager.pdf

KDHE COVID-19 Resource Center: http://www.kdhe.ks.gov/coronavirus/index.htm

KDHE Hotline Number: 866-534-3463 (Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)

CDC COVID-19 Resource Center: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

CDC COVID-19 Cases in the U.S.: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html

On Friday last week: The House approved a resolution to extend the Governor’s state of emergency declaration to allow health officials sufficient time to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus. The declaration puts in place a backstop so the Governor, in case of emergency, would have the ability to move resources from one government agency to another should additional resources be needed in certain areas, such as more support for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to increase testing or expedite information to the public. The resolution also requires Senate approval.

The House Appropriations Committee sent a basic budget to the full House with the expectation lawmakers could negotiate with the Senate on Friday and be ready for lawmakers to vote on the budget as early as Saturday morning. Those plans were delayed when the Senate adjourned on Friday morning without allowing for budget negotiations to begin.

At this point, the Legislature will continue to meet and our work won’t stop. But, as with any public health and safety concern, we have a responsibility to make sure the state is positioned to provide essential services even if the Legislature were to become unable to meet. That’s what a basic budget would do. We shouldn’t delay getting this done.

Also late last week, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on HB 2743, which will allow the Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court to extend or suspend deadlines to secure the health and safety of users of the court system, staff, and judicial officers, given current events surrounding COVID-19.  Such an order will apply to municipal courts, district courts, the Kansas Court of Appeals, and the Kansas Supreme Court.

There are fears over whether litigants would be deprived the opportunity of a speedy trial, should court proceedings be delayed or suspended in the midst of this health crisis.  To remedy this, the bill will extend all legal deadlines including but not limited to trial deadlines, deadlines to file an appeal, statutes of limitations and other legal deadlines. In addition, the chief justice would also be allowed to issue an order authorizing teleconferencing in any court proceeding in the event a threat to public health.

With this bill, the judicial branch will ensure that litigants will not be constrained by necessary measures to secure the health and safety of those attending court proceedings.  Affording the chief justice this opportunity to extend judicial deadlines and authorize teleconferencing will allow the court system in Kansas to continue to function in a time of crisis.  The bill was amended to include a sunset date on March 31st.

This bill passed out of committee and it is anticipated that it will be approved by the Legislature this week.

On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee improved on HB 2588, the governor’s transportation plan.  Transportation Chairman, Richard Proehl (R-Parsons) offered a balloon amendment to make a good plan better.  The amendment included the following changes:

•  Changed the name from the FORWARD transportation program to the Eisenhower Legacy transportation program.  This name change honors the legacy of the father of the interstate system, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

•  Bonds issued for new projects are paid from sales tax money.  This provides $80-100 million over the course of the plan that cannot be transferred back to the SGF.  Bonds are still subject to the 18 percent cap.

•  Alternative Delivery is allowed when federal grants require it. 

•  Work will be spread across all 6 KDOT districts

•  All existing TWORKS projects will be let to construction by July 1, 2022, one year ahead of FORWARD

•  Expanded reporting on: anticipated payouts for construction projects under contract; proposed projects to be let; three-year projection effects on remaining agency debt service, programs, and operations; comparison of annual revenue expected into the State Highway Fund.

•   Focus on short-line rail will help keep large trucks off highways.

The bill passed out of committee and awaits action by the House.

At this time, the best way to reach me is by phone: (785) 296-7463 or email : ken.rahjes@house.ks.gov and you can always try my cell number at (785) 302-8416.   You can also check kenforkansas.com

It is my honor to be your representative.