A stirring redirection
Yes, it sounds a little odd to call it a Spring Break/coronavirus first adjournment of the
Legislature, but that’s where we are, and lawmakers before heading out two weeks early for that
annual break prepared the state as best they could for whatever that pandemic is likely to bring
within the next month…or maybe two….
That early first adjournment saw lawmakers pass an initial budget for the remainder of this fiscal
year and next fiscal year…waiting and hoping to learn what the epidemic is going to do to the
This isn’t just – now doesn’t this sound heartless — a local flood or a drought that reduces crops
or threatens the livestock industry. It’s a border-to-border health/ economic emergency. Can’t fix
things nearly as easily as those localized disasters were dealt with. It’s bigger, much bigger in the
problems that it will spark. It’s a stirring redirection of legislative authority.
The focus on Medicaid expansion and a proposed constitutional amendment dealing with
regulation of abortion paralyzed much of the session so far, but those issues were put aside while
a bare-bones budget and several bills to respond to the pandemic and its effect on Kansas were
passed, some already signed into law.
Before leaving town, lawmakers created a $50 million fund from which the state budget director
can ask legislative leadership for cash to deal with emergencies…if they sign off on the
The Legislature does allow Gov. Laura Kelly to lead the pandemic response efforts, making the
sometimes-jarring public policy decisions (closing school buildings) that are already shaking the
state from border to border. But it also put a leash on her authority for some relatively strange-
sounding reasons. For example, lawmakers won’t allow the governor to restrict movement of
people or their animals in the state, which might limit the spread of the disease but which some
conservatives find heavy-handed. A breach of the constitutional issue of freedom of association,
And the gun-rights legislators also limited the governor from any restriction on traveling with
guns, ammunition or explosives – and liquor – within the state. That’s the good old 2nd
Amendment issue that always goes better with a drink or two…
Kelly’s closing of schools, or at least attending classes in schoolhouses for the rest of the school
year, was seen as an over-reach by some lawmakers, who being elected from districts want their
local school and public health leaders to make that decision.
Well, Kelly closed down those schools – not learning by Internet or such, but school buildings.
That means the whole educational process for children and the near-grownup high school
students is shaken. And those kids stay home and their parents have to watch them. Probably the
most notable upside – besides reducing transmission of diseases – is that the schools are now
leading in efforts to make sure those students who relied on breakfast and lunches at the
schoolhouse are getting them delivered to their homes, a vital public health service.
But…and being practical about it, the governor’s wide-sweeping executive orders during this
state emergency come down to politics for some. Like the Legislature where all 40 Senate seats
and all 125 House seats are up for election this August and November.
Just how much authority are legislators going to give the governor for health-necessary,
economic-stability orders? Well, virtually every order which the governor issues to deal with the
outbreak is going to get a review by legislative leadership, which has authorized itself to
scrutinize or delay, or even overturn, those orders.
That doesn’t quite put your local legislators in charge of battling the epidemic but might leave
their fingerprints on restrictions on Kansans’ way of life…for reasons that they may or may not
have to justify when they are campaigning.
We’ll see how this works out…