KASB Legislative Roundup, Mon. May 18

Kansas legislative committees continued meeting Monday in anticipation of the final one-day session of the Legislature on Thursday. 

The House and Senate Judiciary committees have been charged with considering legal liability projections associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor’s use of disaster declarations and executive orders. 

The House committee finished three days of meetings with no conclusions or recommendations on either subject. 

Attorney General Derek Schmidt set out nine areas of concern or questions about the state emergency management act, which authorizes the governor to declare disaster emergencies and issue executive orders, and other related areas of state law. 

He said his office was working on a formal opinion in responses to questions about the governor’s actions and operation of the law since the COVID-19 pandemic began this Spring. Among other orders, Gov. Laura Kelly shut down most school activities until May 27 and has set out a phased “reopening” of state business, educational and other activities lasting until at least until mid-June. 

However, her original disaster declaration expired May 1. The governor then issued a new declaration, which was extended by the State Finance Council only until May 25. The governor has asked the Legislature to extend the new declaration, and it is unclear what will happen if the Legislature does not do so or adds conditions the governor opposes. 

The House Committee took no action, but the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the issue Tuesday, with only two days left before the Legislature returns. 

Today, the Senate committee heard testimony on COVID-related liabilities issues. Representatives of medical and business groups said they should need protection against lawsuits if they follow appropriate guidelines. Representatives of trial lawyers and others said such legislation would limit protections for patients, employees and customers. 

Some legislative leaders have said they want to pass liability legislation and limits on executive authority on the final day, but specific bills have not been considered. Other committees have proposed bills regarding tax policy which could be considered Thursday. 

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