KASB Legislative Roundup, Tue. June 2

On the eve of a special legislative session, lawmakers on Tuesday began reviewing a draft COVID-19 response bill that apparently would require Gov. Laura Kelly to get the approval of the State Board of Education before closing schools again. 

That proposal and others contained in the lengthy document received a frosty reception from some legislators as they prepared to return to Topeka. Last month, Republicans pushed through a measure restricting Kelly, a Democrat, in using emergency powers during the pandemic. Kelly vetoed the bill, which was crafted during a 24-hour marathon on the final day of the regular session, and then called legislators back into a special session. 

In an early development Wednesday as the special session started, Kelly issued a statement saying she supported what she called was the bipartisan agreement “our state needs as we continue on the path to recovery.”

She added, “To be clear, there are parts of the bill I do not support. However, my priority is and will always be the interests of Kansans first. I believe that the majority of this legislation accomplishes that and upholds my commitment to work across the aisle to move our state forward.”

On Tuesday, House Judiciary Chairman Fred Patton, R-Topeka, said the new draft proposal came out of negotiations that included the governor’s office. “I feel like we are getting pretty close,” Patton said. 

But ranking Democrat, John Carmichael, called the draft a “monstrosity,” adding, “I have no idea who has cooked up this bill.” 

Some Republicans also voiced problems. Rep. Russell Jennings, R-Lakin, criticized a proposal that would require the governor to seek a majority vote from the State Board of Education to close schools. Kelly closed Kansas schools in March to curb the spread of COVID-19. Jennings said the governor should have the ability to act quickly to close schools when time is of the essence to protect children.  

Rep. Mark Samsel, R-Wellington, said he had concerns that the bill contained too many subjects and could be challenged in court for running counter to the constitutional provision that bills cover one subject area. In addition to amending emergency powers, the draft also deals with the process of allocating federal coronavirus funds and liability for businesses and others. 

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee also reviewed the bill, with some raising objections. The bill can be introduced when the special session begins Wednesday and would be subject to debate and amendment in committees and the full House and Senate. Other bills on this and other subjects can also be introduced. 

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