Kansas Governor Vetoes Bill Limiting Her Covid Emergency Powers

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(CN) — Democratic Kansas Governor Laura Kelly vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have limited her authority to respond to the Covid-19 emergency.

In a statement, Kelly’s office called the House bill by Republican lawmakers “hastily crafted legislation” that “damages Kansas’ ability to respond to Covid-19 and all future disasters.”

The bill would have provided some relief to health and economic security during the health crisis, but with her veto, Kelly extends her emergency powers.

Kelly, who won the governor’s office in 2018, declared a state of emergency on March 12. Subsequent orders followed, including the closure of in-person classes and the barring of public gatherings including church services.

The state’s Republican-majority Legislature revoked the governor’s health order just before Easter Sunday services. The group claimed Kelly’s order violated the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of religion.

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order April 19, though the order only applied to two churches who sued Kelly.

Kelly sued in the state Supreme Court, arguing the judge lacked the authority to overturn her order. The Kansas Supreme Court, who met via video conference, ruled in Kelly’s favor which allowed the emergency declaration to be extended through May 1.

On Tuesday, Kelly vetoed House Bill 2054 which she says was pushed through the Legislature.

“The bill also weakens local county health officer authorities and adds unnecessary layers of bureaucracy to their emergency response efforts,” said Kelly in a statement.

She signed a new disaster declaration that addresses food supply and a coordinated response with federal and state partners to tackle the economic blowback from the health crisis. She also ended the gradual reopening of the state economy, allowing local governments to develop their own plans.

“As I’ve said from day one, the safety and well-being of Kansans is my number one priority. What the Legislature sent to my desk does not protect Kansans. It does not help Kansans. It puts their lives at risk,” Kelly said in a statement. “I’m calling on the Legislature to come back and put a carefully crafted, bipartisan bill on my desk that will provide the resources Kansans need, in a timely manner. We must stop putting Kansans at risk.”

She called for a special session of Legislature on June 3 to deliver the emergency management bill.

Kansas Attorney General and Republican Derek Schmidt previously said Kelly’s health order barring public gatherings like church services violated state law and he advised law enforcement not to enforce the order.

In a statement Schmidt said it was critical for “a mechanism be enacted to oversee use of emergency powers going forward.”

“While simply signing this bill would have done that, the governor has chosen a different path,” said Schmidt. “So, I hope she and the Legislature — now freed from the pressure of imminent adjournment — can collaborate to get the job done.”

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