By Tim Carpenter & Sherman Smith – Kansas Reflector
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly prepared to issue directives rescinding seven executive orders tied to COVID-19 prior to 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 2 1/2 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.
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.