KASB Daily Legislative Roundup, Wed. May 13

Republican legislators leaders on Wednesday blasted Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, over her executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic, and then extended the state emergency disaster declaration to May 26, instead of June 13 as the governor wanted.

Meeting as the State Finance Council, Republicans also said they plan to rewrite the state’s emergency management law when the 2020 session convenes for its final day on May 21. Holding significant majorities in the Legislature, Republicans made it clear Kelly would need to abide by the changes to continue using emergency authority during the pandemic.

During the meeting, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, referred to Kelly as a dictator for her executive orders restricting crowd sizes and keeping business closed. House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, also criticized Kelly. Kelly said her decisions have been based on what is best for the health of Kansans.

The shorter timeframe for the emergency order could set up a confrontation between Kelly and GOP leaders over Kelly’s scheduled plan to re-open the state.

In other business in the run up to the session finale:

— The House Appropriations Committee received an overview of how the $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act funds may be distributed in Kansas.

Budget Director Larry Campbell told lawmakers federal guidance has changed frequently since the law was enacted in late March but his best advice now is that CARES Act funds must be used for expenses directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic response and may not be used to supplant existing state funds earmarked for various departments and programs.

Committee Chair Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill, and several other Republicans on the committee repeatedly expressed concern that the Legislature will not have proper oversight of the CARES Act funding.

Waymaster, K-12 Education Budget Chair Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, and Commerce Committee Chair Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, all said the state Constitution gives the Legislature the power to appropriate funds. They pressed Kansas COVID Recovery Team CEO Cheryl Harrison-Lee on the composition of the as-yet unnamed Recovery Team Executive Committee and Steering Committee. Harrison-Lee said the Legislature would be represented on those committees and membership should be finalized by the end of this week.

Under questioning from Waymaster and others, Campbell acknowledged many factors affecting the Kansas economy (such as the precipitous drop in oil revenue) can be tied to the coronavirus pandemic but said current federal guidance nonetheless prohibits state and local officials from accessing CARES Act money to replace lost revenue.

The Committee will meet again Friday to continue its discussions.

— The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee voted to combine a series of tax measures passed by the Senate earlier in the session into a pair bills passed by the House. None of the Senate bills were considered by the House before the Legislature shut down early in March.

The move means the House could take an up or down vote to on the bill as Senate amendments to House bills when the Legislature returns.

The highest-profile bill, which passed the Senate as SB 294, requires most local governments to provide special notices, hold a separate meeting and take a special vote to increase property taxes over a “revenue neutral rate” based on the previous year. It does not apply to school districts, which have other budget limits and voter controls through aspects of the school finance formula. The bill also repeals a controversial tax lid on ciites and counties.

The committee also approved proposals to create a “grace period” for property taxes due in May that would waive interest and penalties if the taxes were paid by Aug. 10 and would place in statute an executive order extending the state income tax due date from April 15 to July 15 this year, both measures based on the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

— The House Judiciary Committee started discussions about providing legal liability protection for cases arising from the COVID pandemic. Medical and business groups supported legislator providing liability limits, while trial lawyers and others said such steps could limit the ability of workers, patients and nursing home resident to recover damages from “bad actors.”

KASB submitted written testimony asking the Legislature to provide school districts and post-secondary educational institutions with immunity from liability for COVID-19 claims unless the educational institution was intentionally negligent or failed to follow state and federal laws and guidelines.

The committee will meet again Friday and Monday. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Both groups are also looking at the state of disaster declarations, emergency orders and proclamations.

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