Governor Kelly Quickly Signs Three Bills Providing Relief in Dealing with COVID-19 Impact
Three bills, passed by the Legislature, were quickly signed by Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and became law this week.
Senate Bill 142 gives the Kansas State Board of Education the flexibility to waive the hours of instruction requirements in the event of an extended shutdown of schools. With Kansas school buildings now closed for staff and students (except for some narrow exceptions for essential personnel) for the remainder of the school year while teachers and administrators work to develop plans for continuous learning, it is important that provisions which may be easy to fulfill during normal times be, made flexible enough for extraordinary times.
Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson’s Continuous Learning Task Force has already issued guidance to school district teams for planning how to move forward through this crisis. Members can access the Continuous Learning Portal here: http://bit.ly/KNEACL_2
Senate Bill 27 changes the conditions under which unemployment benefits are provided, ensuring that those who lose their jobs as businesses close down can secure benefits quickly and for a time long enough to cover this crisis.
Senate Bill 102 provides flexibility to the judicial system so that legal proceedings can be handled in a manner that protects the public from the spread of the disease.
These three bills, along with Governor Kelly’s Executive Orders 20-06 which temporarily prohibits evictions and foreclosures and 20-05, that temporarily prohibits the disconnection of utilities, will do much to ease some of the economic worries facing working Kansans and families.
On the Last Day, Legislators Worked Remaining Issues Remarkably Quickly
There were three big things to be done before the Legislature could close down.
One was Senate Bill 173, the big Eisenhower Legacy transportation bill intended to get our highway program back on track. The House adopted this conference committee report at noon Thursday on a vote of 117 to 3; the Senate followed suit at 2:35 p.m., passing it on a vote of 37 to 2.
The second issue was the conference committee report on SB 66. This is the budget bill that must be passed. It has been portrayed as a bare-bones budget to get the state through this fiscal year and into the next. Many of the decisions for the future will be subject to additional work when the Legislature reconvenes on April 27. The House began the discussion of the CCR on SB 66 at 3:30 p.m. and passed it on a vote of 99 to 16, sending it to the Senate. The Senate voted at 4:55 p.m. and passed the budget on a vote of 28 to 10.
Education funding is fully provided in the budget to ensure compliance with the Gannon school finance decision. The Legislature has committed to honoring the promises made in last year’s school finance bill. There is language in the budget bill that requires every school district that seeks a waiver of the requirements of hours of instruction must submit a continuous learning plan to the Kansas State Board of Education. Here’s the exact language in the conference committee report:
(f) During the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, in addition to the other purposes for which expenditures may be made by the above agency from moneys appropriated from the state general fund or any special revenue fund or funds for fiscal year 2020, as authorized by section 90 of chapter 68 of the 2019 Session Laws of Kansas, this or other appropriation act of the 2020 regular session of the legislature, expenditures shall be made by the above agency from such moneys appropriated from the state general fund or any special revenue fund or funds for fiscal year 2020, for the state board of education to require that any school district that receives a waiver from the requirements of K.S.A. 72-3115, and amendments thereto, relating to the duration of the school term for school year 2019-2020 pursuant to K.S.A. 72-3117, and amendments thereto, develop and implement a continuous learning plan so the school district continues to provide instruction to each student enrolled in such school district during the period of time described in the waiver: Provided further, That on or before April 15, 2020, each such school district shall submit its continuous learning plan to the state board of education: And provided further, That on or before January 15, 2021, the state board of education shall prepare and submit a report on the implementation of such continuous learning plans across the state to the standing committees on education in the house of representatives and the senate.
The third issue was HCR 5025 which continues the emergency powers of Governor Kelly until 2021 to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate took this up first and quickly passed it on a vote of 39 to 0, sending it over to the House. The House took up the issue at about 4:00 p.m. and passed it on a vote of 115 to 0.
Sadly, what should have been a simple measure was turned into political posturing by Senate Republicans when they took the measure sent to them by the House and used it to attack Governor Kelly, and assert their belief that the pandemic is really no big deal.
Leading the attack were Senators Caryn Tyson (R-Parker), Rob Olson (R-Olathe), Gene Suellentrop (R-Wichita), Ty Masterson (R-Andover), Dennis Pyle (R-Hiawatha), and Mike Thompson (R-Shawnee). Tyson amended the bill to dramatically curtail the Governor’s powers included prohibiting her from restricting travel or designating quarantine areas. Pyle amended the bill to prohibit her from seizing guns and ammunition or restricting gun sales during the crisis.
Never before have legislators worked so hard to prevent a governor from protecting the health and safety of Kansans in an emergency. Suellentrop ridiculed the idea of social distancing. Thompson bemoaned the fate of banks and landlords if they were stopped from evictions and foreclosures. Masterson asked how an eviction could be harmful to someone’s health.
Once in conference though, Kansas House members led by Rep. Blaine Finch (R-Ottawa), brought in the Attorney General, the Adjutant General, and others to discuss the issue. The compromise created in the conference and now passed by both chambers will give the Governor the ability to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate adjourned at 5:12 p.m.; the House at 7:01 p.m. Both will be returning on April 27 unless conditions at that time will not allow large gatherings.
The Kansas Response to COVID-19 Has Been Great; Now We Need a Little More Help from Congress!
We reported to you earlier that Congress passed HR 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, but there is more that Congress can do to provide relief to working families.
Right now, the U.S. Senate is crafting a massive stimulus package. We want to make sure it includes provisions that will help all students, educators, and working families. Specifically, we think Congress and the President should:
- Provide immediate stimulus checks to households;
- Create a state stabilization fund to help prevent educator layoffs;
- Expand guaranteed paid sick leave and family medical leaves;
- Offer additional Medicaid funding to states;
- Cancel student loan payments;
- Address the “homework gap” for students without WiFi and devices;
- Ensure comprehensive food assistance for student and their households;
- Give maximum flexibility for U.S. Department of Education regulations, especially Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) testing and interventions; and
- Prevent housing instability and homelessness.