Special Session Re-Cap

The 2020 Kansas Legislature is now complete, at least we assume that another special session will be called.  This past legislative session will go down in the history books as unfinished business. Oh, many will say a budget got passed so Kansas government can continue, but the impact of COVID-19 will have ramifications for years to come; physical, emotional, and financial.

Over the last several weeks, I have talked with several constituents who had challenges navigating or simply communicating with the Department of Labor to get their unemployment issues resolved. I am pleased that Governor Kelly and her staff have worked in a non-partisan effort to help fellow Kansans during these challenging times.  If you are having issues getting answers from state government, please reach out to me: kenrahjes@gmai.com or my cell: (785) 302-8416, it is important that your issues are addressed.

SPECIAL SESSION:  The legislature was called back into special session on June 3rd for the sole purpose of crafting a new COVID-19 response package.  Over the course of two days, HB 2016 became the state’s COVID-19 response legislation.  On June 4th, the House and Senate both overwhelmingly passed that bill with support from both parties.  On a bipartisan vote, it passed 107-17 in the House and similarly in the Senate and has been sent to the governor.  The bill modernizes the state’s emergency disaster laws and places commonsense checks and balances.  It aims to protect the people of Kansas while also protecting our jobs and the Kansas economy.  COVID-19 has presented many challenges for us, and HB 2016 establishes a well-built framework to help move Kansas forward.

This bill achieves the following:

•  Adds the legislature’s budget chairpersons to federal stimulus oversight—changes the legislative oversight of the $1.25 billion in federal funds from the Legislative Coordinating Council to the State Finance Council.

•  Prevents the governor from closing businesses or limiting mass gatherings—through September 15, the governor shall not have the power or authority to close businesses or restrict gatherings of Kansans.

•  Extends the current declaration to September 15—should the governor wish to extend the emergency declaration beyond September 15, it would require six of eight legislative members on the State Finance Council must support such a measure.

•  Includes the State Board of Education in school closure decisions—Provides that the governor may not close schools without a majority vote from the State Board of Education.

•  Preserves the integrity of the 2020 election—reiterates that the governor does not have the authority to change the state’s election process.

•  Adds additional local control to health orders—removes red tape of having local county commissions ratify local health orders, and instead grants the commissioners the ability to review, amend, or revoke local health orders as needed.  Commissioners may be less restrictive but must have findings to justify such measures.

•  Limited liability protections for nursing homes—provides restricted liability protections for nursing homes if they are required by the state to take or keep COVID-positive patients, and only if they are operating in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations as an affirmative defense.

•   Enacts the COVID-19 Contact Tracing Privacy Act—prohibits governmental entities from mandating contact tracing programs and using cellphone location data to identify or track the movement of persons.  This is strictly voluntary.

As a reminder, the legislature previously passed HB 2054, which was subsequently vetoed. These key provisions from that bill were also included in the package presented to the governor:

•  Extends unemployment benefits from 16 to 26 weeks and waives the one-week waiting period for Kansans impacted by layoffs during the pandemic.

•  Protects employers from large increases in unemployment insurance premiums so they are not hit harder by the high rate of unemployment resulting from the pandemic.

•  Preserves local control by giving local health officials and county commissioners the flexibility to determine the right approach for their community. This prevents counties and businesses that are not seeing a significant impact from being bound by a one-size-fits-all approach.

•  Implements certain liability protections for businesses, including those that adapted their business model to assist during the pandemic with the production of hand sanitizer, masks, or other protective equipment that they would not normally produce.

•  Implements liability protection for doctors, nurses, and other first responders to help protect our frontline health care workers from COVID-related lawsuits while they are providing critical care during the pandemic.

•  Requires that any governor’s use of executive power be done within the bounds of the Constitution and existing state law. These guardrails will allow governors to take swift action on an emergency response but does not allow a governor to violate Kansans’ Constitutional rights or break the law while exercising the powers of the position.

•  Provides oversight of federal stimulus funds. Modeled after the state’s distribution of other federal stimulus funds, such as ARRA funds provided to the state in 2009, this plan allows a governor to propose a plan for those dollars and for members of the legislative branch to approve or amend that plan. This is the same process used in the budgeting and appropriation of other funds coming into the state and keeps the appropriation of these federal stimulus dollars consistent with that process.

•   Protects Kansans from unfair criminal prosecution. The state’s outdated law allowed certain violations of a governor’s executive orders to be punishable by up to a year in jail or a $2,500 fine. This bill converts violations of all executive orders from carrying a criminal penalty to instead carry a civil penalty. This means executive orders would still have teeth, but local law enforcement would have consistency in their ability to prevent violations, and Kansans would not face jail time over executive orders.

Although we are out of session, I am still here to represent you. If you have questions, concerns, or ideas on how to make the state better please reach out to me. Call (785) 302-8416 or email: kenrahjes@gmail.com. I genuinely appreciate when constituents reach out and I can help.

I am running for re-election and currently unopposed. There will be many new members in both the house and senate come January and the issues will continue to grow. Thank you for the opportunity to be your state representative.