Executive Orders standing
What started as a legislative leash on Gov. Laura Kelly’s efforts to battle the coronavirus epidemic has turned into what might be called a fan base by legislative leaders, who have found no immediate problems with the extraordinary steps she has taken to hold down the spread of the disease.
And the legislative leadership – the Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC) – has so far found no reason to overturn any of at least seven orders by the governor since she declared the COVID-19 emergency March 12, just a few days after President Donald Trump declared the national COVID-19 emergency.
Lawmakers didn’t have much problem passing a resolution that gives the LCC — the five-Republican/two Democrat panel that usually sets meeting dates, defines legislative procedures and authorizes out-of-state travel by legislators — authority to scrutinize every Kelly Executive Order (EO) to respond to the then- and still-growing spread of the disease.
Politically? The Republican-dominated Legislature quickly identified areas of public life it wanted the governor to leave alone during the pandemic. It was guns, liquor, seizure of property and such, issues that were appealing to many Kansas Republicans.
Kelly’s first major Kansas-shaking order was to close schools for the remainder of the year. Not education which is now going to be conducted largely over the Internet and educational plans that school officials are sharing with the parents of schoolchildren, but closing down the buildings where the students were at risk of catching or spreading to bring home the pandemic.
That was a big step, but the LCC didn’t reject it.
And this past Saturday, Kelly extended the state-stay-home order that last week was a local government decision from border-to-border into counties that don’t appear to have a single COVID-19 case confirmed.
That was the decision that clearly was one that lawmakers representing those COVID-19-free, or at least with no confirmed cases, counties were wary of. In reaction, the LCC met, mostly remotely, the next day but let the order stand.
It was a dramatic stretch of the health safety-required restriction on the activities of Kansans and Kansas businesses that are in areas where the coronavirus is mostly just a headline, with no local families involved – yet.
Clearly for now, the extraordinary power the governor’s EO hands her still shakes the Legislature. For at least a couple reasons.
Everything Kelly has done through EOs so far has restricted or at least complicated Kansans’ lives and the businesses they depend on for a livelihood. Those are big steps, and it is going to be difficult when this is all over to compute whether those interferences from under the Statehouse dome were necessary. That’s something Kansans, when this pandemic is over, will be dissecting for years.
But the LCC? And the Legislature it represents?
So far, it’s walked across the snow and left no tracks. There were some questions at the LCC meetings, but not a single vote for or against any of Kelly’s orders. That’s called no tracks in the snow, just where the Legislature would prefer to be in a likely life-or-death battle against coronavirus.
Until the outbreak is eventually stifled, nobody wants to be identified as a legislator who cost a single life by overturning an EO.
You gotta wonder why lawmakers wanted to hand themselves a role in a crisis like this one. Once the guns and liquor and seizure of property were taken out of the equation, it was pretty much a situation where the governor gets all the credit or all the blame for whatever the disease does to Kansas.