KASB Legislative Roundup, Thur. June 4

The Legislature on Thursday finished work on the COVID-19 emergency bill and wrapped up the special legislative session. 

The measure, HB 2016, includes a new wrinkle if Gov. Laura Kelly wants to close schools again because of the pandemic. Under the new bill, Kelly would have to first seek approval from the State Board of Education to shut down schools. 

Approved 107-12 in the House and 26-12 in the Senate, Kelly said she would sign the bill into law, describing the legislation as a compromise.  

In March, Kelly closed schools as the coronavirus pandemic spread. Some complained she acted prematurely or that COVID-19 had not been a problem in some areas of Kansas. But others said by closing schools, Kansas avoided the higher death tolls that some similar sized states have experienced. 

The new measure was crafted mostly by legislative leaders and the governor’s office after Kelly vetoed a bill that was approved on the last day of the regular session with only Republican votes and severely restricted the governor’s powers in emergencies. After the veto, Kelly then summoned lawmakers back to Topeka for the special session, which lasted two days. 

HB 2016 extends the current state of emergency through Sept. 15. After that, orders to close businesses would require approval of six of the eight legislative members of the State Finance Council, which includes six Republican legislative leaders, two Democratic legislative leaders and Kelly, a Democrat. The State Finance Council would also oversee allocating Kansas’s share of federal coronavirus funds. 

During a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Thursday, Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, tried to amend the bill to put the decision on closing schools entirely with local school boards, but the amendment failed. 

Also, during the special session, the Senate Education Committee recommended approval of SB 5, which included several education measures, but the full Senate didn’t consider it. The bill mirrored one earlier approved by the Legislature, but vetoed by Kelly, who said it included new spending as the state faces dramatic revenue problems because of the loss of economic activity due to the pandemic. 

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