Kansas' COVID-19 emergency declaration could end Friday
Gov. Kelly said she will request an extension, but legislative leaders are leaning the other way.
Kansas' COVID-19 emergency declaration is set to expire on Friday.
It may end on Friday, period, without being renewed, depending on what legislative leaders do Wednesday with it. The feeling is that it's time to be done.
Under new law passed this year, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has less power over taking executive action regarding disaster emergencies such as COVID-19.
Whereas before such requests for emergency extensions happened under the State Finance Council, in which the governor chaired over GOP legislative leaders, they now will happen solely under the jurisdiction of the Legislative Coordinating Council, comprised of only legislative leaders.
If the LCC does extend the declaration, it'll be at most an extension of 30 days.
Tussles over extending the emergency declaration have reached peak moments throughout the pandemic, when the executive and legislative branches argued over matters ranging from mask mandates to forced business closures. For the most part, though, such extensions have been relatively drama-free.
But this time, lawmakers may actually lean against an extension, as the pandemic subsides, vaccinations rise and guidance for face coverings loosens.
The governor will still be requesting an extension of the emergency declaration, confirmed the governor's office.
Maintaining the state's emergency declaration is important, proponents have said, so that resources can be leveraged to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, even if the declaration ends, the virus is still around and more contagious variants are still circulating.
"Extending the current disaster declaration is essential for our state’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, allowing us to keep Kansans safe and healthy, keep our economy open and get our kids back in school as quickly as possible,” Kelly said previously in a statement on the last extension.
But some conservatives were already calling for an end to the disaster emergency, even as far back in January, perceiving it to be hurting the economy even if counties were already given the ability to opt out of the governor's emergency orders.
GOP leaders were still hesitant back then when virus case numbers were high, but now, with the pandemic's days seeming to near their end, they're more open to ending it.
"Kansans are ready to move forward," said Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, in a text message. "If there are fact-based reasons for keeping the declaration open — instead of political ones — I'm open to hearing about those and to have a discussion."
Leaders on the Senate side have been more vocal against keeping the declaration in place for too long. When negotiating the previous extension, senators had wanted it expiring no later than this week, when legislative session ends. House members had been more open to extending it until around June.
A spokesperson for Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said as of late Tuesday, there was no definitive position on the matter.
But other members of Senate leadership, like Senate Vice President Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that he personally leaned toward not renewing the emergency declaration. He added he was speaking on behalf of himself and still needed to consult with Masterson.
"I think the public also thinks that in general," said Wilborn, the newest member of the LCC after lawmakers added him to the group this session. "My inclination is we should not renew it."
He also cited the fact that cases are down, vaccinations are taking place and people are ready to move on.
How an end to the disaster emergency will affect future vaccine rollout remains unclear, though the governor has said there definitely would be less resources available.
The number of new COVID-19 cases over two-to-three-day reporting periods have dipped to double digits at the end of May, and 41.4% of Kansans have been vaccinated with at least one dose as of Monday.