Kelly rescinding handful of executive orders, seeks extension of disaster declaration

Democratic governor offers legislators plan to end emergency Aug. 30

By: and - June 14, 2021 11:08 am

Gov. Laura Kelly has offered a plan to the Legislative Coordinating Council, composed of House and Senate leaders, ending the state disaster declaration on COVID-19 by Aug. 30. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly prepared to issue directives rescinding seven executive orders tied to COVID-19 before a meeting Tuesday of top legislative leaders considering the governor’s request to extend the state’s disaster emergency declaration to July 15 as part of a plan to wind down extraordinary measures by Aug. 30.

Kelly submitted a letter to the Legislative Coordinating Council, which includes House and Senate leaders of both parties, a timeline for concluding the emergency response to the pandemic under the Kansas Emergency Management Act. She proposed the LCC extend for another 30 days the state disaster declaration, but indicated her intention was to seek more extensions so the emergency apparatus could be dismantled piece by piece during the next 2½ months.

She said state government had concentrated emergency operations to vaccination efforts, logistical support to local communities, return of state agencies to normal operations and securing federal financial support for the work. COVID-19 remained a threat if vaccination rates continued to dwindle, she said, but Kansans expected a responsible standing down of the state government’s emergency operation.

“We’ve made a lot of strides on the virus, and we’re getting to the point. But we’re not there yet,” Kelly said.

The coronavirus since March 2020 has infected at least 315,000 Kansans, hospitalized more than 10,800 and contributed to the death of 5,106. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 1.25 million people had received the first dose of a vaccine, while 997,000 had received a second dose. Less than half of Kansas adults have completed the vaccination process.

Senate President Ty Masterson, far right in photo, and other members of the Legislative Coordinating Council plan to consider Tuesday a request from Gov. Laura Kelly for a 30-day extension of the state's disaster declaration on COVID-19. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Senate President Ty Masterson, facing at far right in photo, and other members of the Legislative Coordinating Council plan to consider Tuesday a request from Gov. Laura Kelly for a 30-day extension of the state’s disaster declaration on COVID-19. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kelly said in the letter to legislative leaders she would rescind seven executive orders while retaining one that required COVID-19 testing in adult care homes licensed by the state and another granting temporary authority to health care workers to administer vaccine.

The governor said orders to be dropped Tuesday included waiver of a one-week waiting period for applicants of unemployment benefits, a tuberculin testing requirement, licensure mandates for adult care homes and another related to income tax withholdings on out-of-state telemedicine work.

Executive orders extending deadlines for renewing expired driver’s licenses and conducting annual rural water district meetings would end June 30, she said. An order allowing for remote notaries and witnesses would be withdrawn July 15, the governor said.

In May, the Republican-led LCC extended Kansas’ disaster declaration to June 15 rather than June 27 due to concern the governor’s office hadn’t established a plan for closing out the emergency phase of the pandemic.

House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said he was concerned the Kelly administration had no exit strategy, because “all we do is keep things going and going and going.”

In exchange for last month’s extension until June 15, the state discontinued an executive order prohibiting evictions that was put in place during the pandemic.

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said the message to the Democratic governor was that extensions had to be wired to ending the emergency and legislative leaders would move to strike “unnecessary or burdensome executive orders.”

Kelly said a key argument for another extension of the disaster declaration was to make progress vaccinating school-age children. There was a decline in the rate of child vaccinations when the spring term ended, she said. By mid-June, the governor said, Kansas had vaccinated 20.1% of children age 12 to 17. She estimated the back-to-school period could allow a total of 100,000 to 118,000 children, or about half, to be vaccinated by the end of August.

“The objective has been to get to the fall of 2021 and the start of the new school year to ensure that vaccine efforts are not stalled or impeded,” Kelly said.

The Kansas National Guard’s role in supporting the distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccine through mobile clinics shouldn’t be disrupted by premature end of the disaster declaration, the governor said. The state has conducted 47 vaccination clinics for employers and has received requests for a dozen more. Twenty community vaccination clinics have been scheduled between June 12 and July 27, she said.

Kelly also said ending the state disaster declaration immediately would cut off food stamp benefits to 63,000 Kansas households that the federal government authorized for states with active COVID-19 emergency responses.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.

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