Legislature to reconvene on final day of session, May 21

House and Senate leaders on Wednesday decided the Legislature will return May 21, the official last day of the 2020 legislative session. But it remains unclear, what, if anything, legislators will get done. 

During a meeting of the Legislative Coordinating Council, there was no discussion about revising the state budget, which faces a $1.27 billion revenue shortfall brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Gov. Laura Kelly has said current fiscal year spending should be in good shape because of strong ending balances, but problems arise in fiscal year 2021, which starts July 1. Kelly has stated she wants to protect funding of critical state services, including K-12 education which makes up half of the state budget.  

The Legislature approved a budget for FY 2021 before it adjourned in mid-March amid the spreading pandemic. Legislators were scheduled to return April 27 for the wrap up session, but legislative leaders said the health risks were too high to return then.  

However, on Wednesday, the LCC met and voted to reconvene on “sine die” adjournment — Thursday, May 21. 

The unanimous decision followed rejection of a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, to return May 19. 

Denning and Wagle argued the Legislature had a lot of unfinished business. Wagle said she wanted to work on amending the state’s emergency management act and pursue liability reform for businesses re-opening during the pandemic. Denning said the Legislature needed to implement oversight of the $1.25 billion in relief sent to Kansas from the federal government for coronavirus expenses. 

But several members — Republicans and Democrats — said it was better to meet briefly and shutdown the 2020 session.  

Noting the health risks involved in bringing 165 legislators and staff members back into close quarters in the Statehouse, House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said, “I don’t think it’s worth anyone dying.”  

In response to Denning’s concern about oversight of federal coronavirus funding, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Gov. Kelly said she intended to appoint a panel to set guidelines on using those dollars. 

House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said Wagle’s desire to make changes to the state’s emergency management law would be better done after an interim study.  

Legislators noted that legislative committees and conference committees could meet between now and May 21 to tee up bills for possible votes, but nothing specific was discussed. 

Republican legislative leaders and Kelly, a Democrat, have also been at odds over some of Kelly’s executive orders during the pandemic and some in the GOP have complained that Kelly is taking too long to allow businesses to reopen. 

The conflict has raised questions about Kelly’s emergency authority. Her latest emergency declaration expires May 13 unless the State Finance Council, which includes the governor and legislative leaders, extends it for a maximum of 30 days, until June 13. By then, the state will be reopened under Kelly’s plan unless there is a spike in COVID-19 cases or deaths. 

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