KASB Legislative Roundup, Tuesday, May 19

Senate Judiciary plans action on COVID related bills 

After two days of hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to debate on Wednesday a series of proposals including COVID-related liability issues; the governor’s disaster emergency declarations, orders and authority; and greater legislative control over spending federal COVID-related funding. 

According to committee chair Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, bills will be drafted for the committee’s consideration when it meets at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. If approved, these bills could go the full Senate for debate when the Legislature returns for a one-day wrap-up session Thursday. The concepts include: 

First, extending legal liability protection for COVID-related claims, which could include one or more bills dealing with medical providers, employers and others, such as educational institutions. Proponents say these groups should not be held liable for damages if they follow safety recommendations; opponents say these changes could remove protections for individuals harmed by the virus. 

Second, deciding whether to ratify the governor’s May 1 disaster declaration and whether to extend it beyond its current May 25 expiration. Attorney General Derek Schmidt is urging the Legislature to confirm the legal status of that declaration and the orders issued under its authority but has also raised questions about the current emergency management act. Some legislators have said they want to impose greater limits on the governor’s authority under the act. 

If the disaster declaration expires May 25, it is unclear how the governor would proceed with her “Ad Astra” state reopening plan, which is currently scheduled to be implemented in phases through June. One option would be to issue a third disaster declaration, but the attorney general said state law is unclear on whether a governor can continue to issue successive disaster declarations without legislative approval. 

Third, amending the state budget bill to require Legislature approve of federal funds flowing to Kansas under the CARES act for COVID expenses. One proposal presented was to direct that state agency requests to use those funds would be reviewed by the Legislative Budget Committee, made up leaders of the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and have to be approved by the Legislative Coordinating Committee, composed of elected Legislative leaders. 

Under current budget language, the governor decides how those funds are used. On Wednesday, Gov. Laura Kelly announced a steering committee to advise her on the use of those funds and other issues related to recovering from the COVID pandemic. That committee includes legislative members as well as other citizens. (See related story.) 

The House Judiciary and Appropriations Committees also discussed these issues over the past week but did not vote on any specific proposals. Other committees, including both the House and Senate tax committees, have recommended bills for consideration on Thursday. The procedures for getting both House and Senate approval of legislation during a one-day session have not been announced. 

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