Kelly signs COVID-19 bill; urges Congress to approve more stimulus

Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday signed into law the COVID-19 emergency legislation and urged Congress to pass another stimulus bill to avoid cuts in schools and other services.

“We are really hoping that Congress gets it together and comes up with a stimulus four package because there is absolutely no way the state and local units of government can recover without having to do massive cuts in programing, essential services,” Kelly said.

“I mean we’re talking about public safety, we’re talking about schools, we’re talking about all sorts of things that would be devastated if Congress doesn’t provide some relief, quickly,” she added.

In Congress last month, House Democrats approved $3.5 trillion in stimulus funds, mostly aimed at helping states whose revenues have fallen dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic and shutting down much of the economy. Senate Republicans, however, have rejected that proposal and plan to meet in July before considering an alternative.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he doesn’t want to bail out states that have made bad budget decisions, but Kelly said the legislation could be crafted in a way to prevent states from spending federal funds in any areas deemed inappropriate.

On the state’s COVID-19 bill, the new law would require Kelly to get approval from the State Board of Education if she wants to close schools again because of the pandemic.

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.

The law extends the current state of emergency through Sept. 15. After that, orders to close businesses will 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.

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