Caryn Tyson: COVID-19 bill passed without debate in Senate

Sen. Caryn Tyson | Legislative Update

A senator commented to me, “I don’t know how you do it. You keep working and working.”

I didn’t have to think twice about my response. You, my constituents, are the reason I do it.

Legislators were called back to Topeka by the governor for a special session because she vetoed the COVID-19 bill that passed by super majority in the House and Senate. There wasn’t a chance for a veto override because the bill passed the last day of the 2020 session in May. Everything starts over for a special session, including all the bills. This special session was over before it began.

The governor met with House and Senate leaders to cut a deal for a COVID-19 bill.  It resulted in House Bill (HB) 2016. The bill was fast-tracked to the point of shutting down debate in the Senate.

After passing the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill should have gone to the Senate Committee of the Whole for debate, when motions to amend would have been in order. However, after the majority leader made a motion to send the bill directly to a final vote. He made another procedural motion to call the question.

If the call the question motion passes, it cuts off all debate and any opportunity to amend the bill. The call the question is rarely used and considered a nuclear option. The call the question motion passed on a vote of 19 yes to 17 no. I voted no because there should have been debate and an opportunity to amend the bill.

It was disappointing that a majority of senators would vote to shut down debate. It was also disappointing the governor threatened to veto the bill if there were any amendments. A handful of senators from both parties rejected the threat in an attempt to get better legislation. HB 2016 passed on a vote of 26 yes to 12 no. I voted no.

COVID-19 legislation: HB 2016 had some good and some not so good legislation. Unfortunately, senators didn’t have an opportunity to amend the bill on the Senate floor. HB 2016 gives protection to some from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits, while others do not get the same protection. For example, hospitals will have greater protection than nursing homes; universities will have greater protection than community colleges. The bill gives the state school board authority to decide if schools open but not the local school boards.

There are some counties that never had a case of COVID-19. Why wouldn’t we let the local school boards decide?

The bill appears to protect privacy and restrict contact tracing, but then allows contact tracing by the secretary of Kansas Health and Environment (KDHE) and local health officers. Many of you have been concerned about the governor’s overreach in shutting down churches or how businesses and activities were selected for “essential.“

HB 2016 would extend the governor’s authority to Sept. 15, allowing for winners and losers to be picked. Why September 15? When this question was asked, there wasn’t an answer. After Sept. 15, the bill allows six of the State Finance Council members to extend the governor’s authority until Jan. 26, 2021. Why not put this check in before Sept 15? These are a few examples of items that could have been addressed.

Membership of the State Finance Council is defined in statute consisting of nine members: (1) the governor, (2) the president of the senate, (3) the speaker of the house, (4) the majority leader of the senate, (5) the minority leader of the senate, (6) the chairperson of the senate committee on ways and means, (7) the majority leader of the house, (8) the minority leader of the house, and (9) the chairperson of the house committee on appropriations. The governor shall be the chairperson and the secretary of administration shall be the secretary of the council but shall not be a voting member.

As you know, these are unique times. Kansans are facing hardships and uncertainty. The news is intense, unrelenting and at times inconsistent. Check your sources and lead by example because these are the times that define us. It reminds me of a Dale Evens quote, “It’s the way you ride the trail that counts.” Stay safe and godspeed.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve as your 12th District state senator.