GOP-led council extends Gov. Laura Kelly’s COVID-19 emergency declaration in Kansas

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LIBERTY, Mo. — A mostly Republican state council voted Friday to extend Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s emergency declaration providing services to combat the coronavirus in Kansas, but only after language was added clarifying that the governor doesn’t intend to use her authority to close businesses as she did in the spring.

The State Finance Council’s unanimous vote came after a lengthy, contentious meeting during which Kelly, a Democrat, and the GOP members accused each other of playing politics with the declaration.

The resolution, which had been scheduled to expire Tuesday, will now be in effect until at least Oct. 31, when Kelly could seek another extension.

Kelly and Adjutant General David Weishaar warned before the vote that letting the declaration expire would stop the state from providing many services, including the delivery of personal protective equipment and assistance with community-based testing.

Republican members insisted on stipulating that the extension had to clarify that Kelly would not close businesses as she did in April.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, said conditions have changed since the early days of the pandemic and that residents need to know the governor’s and lawmakers’ intentions to “calm everything down.”

“We need to let the folks back home, the businesses, know that we have no intention of shutting down and if there’s a hot spot, the local folks will handle that hot spot. … They’re not comfortable right now, they’ve lived through a nightmare. And we need to give the some common sense assurance,” he said.

Kelly said repeatedly during the meeting that she would not order businesses to close again because state and health officials have better data, information and procedures than they did in the spring and most businesses had cooperated with efforts to slow the virus.

When GOP members continued to push for new language in the resolution, Kelly accused them of using the issue for political gain in an election year, rather than ensuring the state can continue to provide services without interruption.

“There is so much at stake here,” she said. “Please do not let your ideology or your dislike for me as governor or the fact that I’m a Democrat (affect the vote). Please, let’s vote for the people, let’s not vote for politics.”

At a news conference after the meeting, House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. said the inserted language was important.

“We’ve got to a situation where we’re picking winners and losers, determined who was essential and who wasn’t, allowing a lot of our large stores remain open when our small ones couldn’t. We couldn’t have that repeated,” Ryckman said.

Some Republicans accused Kelly of breaking rules by vetoing a motion that sought to add different language to the declaration.

Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who attended the news conference, said he’s “sure there will be a large group of lawyers” looking into whether Kelly’s veto was legal.

As of Friday, Kansas health officials had reported 48,386 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 511 deaths from the disease since the start of the pandemic.

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