Kelly vetoes GOP bill, calls special session, ends state’s phased-in reopening rules

Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday vetoed the Republican bill that decreased her authority in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, called a special legislative session and ceded to local health departments the job of implementing restrictions during the pandemic. 

In a news conference, Kelly reiterated her criticisms of HB 2054, which was passed during a marathon 24-hour session last week. The measure, approved with only Republican votes, put legislators in charge of allocating federal coronavirus relief funds and limited the governor’s ability to proclaim disasters, close businesses and impose crowd limits.  

Kelly described the legislation as “partisan, self-serving and shortsighted.” But House Republican leaders issued a statement that said Kelly’s actions Tuesday would cause confusion. “In times of crisis and fear, leaders have an obligation to provide stability and take steps to protect the people they serve. Unfortunately, the actions taken today … do nothing but create more uncertainty and less stability for Kansas,” they said.

The bill, she said, would hinder Kansas’ ability to respond to outbreaks of COVID-19, such as protecting the food supply, including meatpacking plants; providing protection equipment for hospitals and first responders and administering and transporting COVID-19 tests. 

Kelly also signed a new disaster declaration that under state law will expire in 15 days. She said the Legislature must come back and extend her ability to implement statewide disaster declarations. Kelly said she would be willing to work with legislators on other aspects of the Kansas Emergency Management Act, but that any changes need to be carefully vetted.  

“Kansans deserve to have all of their leaders working together in the best interests of Kansans to solve problems,” she said. 

Kelly said she wants legislators to return to Topeka on June 3 for a special legislative session. In Kansas, a special legislative session could veer into other topics. “Though special session proclamations usually provide a particular start date and subject matter, once called, the length and subject matter of a special session may not be limited by the proclamation,” according to the Kansas Office of Revisor of Statutes. 

Kelly also announced her phased-in plan to re-open Kansas would now serve as guidance to local health departments, which means those decisions on crowd gatherings and business openings will be left up to local officials in each county. 

For more details on the governor’s actions, go to this link. 

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