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Republicans Extend Disaster Declaration After Kansas Gov. Kelly Promises To Not Close Businesses

Students at the University of Kansas must wear masks on campus. But earlier this year, partisan fights turned Gov. Laura Kelly's statewide mask mandate into a recommendation only.
Stephen Koranda
Kansas News Service
Students at the University of Kansas must wear masks on campus. But earlier this year, partisan fights turned Gov. Laura Kelly's statewide mask mandate into a recommendation only.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Republican lawmakers agreed to extend Kansas’ coronavirus disaster declaration Friday by a month after demanding assurances that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly won’t shutter businesses across the state a second time.

The contentious approval by the State Finance Council is just the beginning of a cycle: By law, the declaration can be extended only up to 30 days at a time.

Kelly said it was imperative to extend the declaration, which would have expired Sept. 15, because it creates the framework for Kansas to receive federal pandemic funding or give local governments testing and protective equipment. She said letting it expire would have “dire consequences.”

If the declaration expired, it would have taken with it executive orders that blocked some foreclosures and delayed court deadlines.

This fight between Kelly and Republicans started in the spring, clashing over several of her responses to the coronavirus, including the mask mandate and restrictions that closed many businesses early on.

House leaders issued a statement before the council met, saying businesses must continue to stay open because “many … are already on life support.”

Republican Sen. Jim Denning, who is in his final months in state government, urged the governor to include restrictions on closing businesses in the extended order.

“It’ll calm everything down,” Denning said. “They lived through a nightmare.”

But Kelly argued several times throughout the day that such language was unnecessary to add to the latest declaration.

“I have no intention of doing a statewide stay-at-home, shutter businesses order," she said in response. “I don’t see a need.”

After several rounds of negotiations, the council all agreed to include language in the resolution stating Kelly has no intent of closing businesses again.

This debate over extending the declaration will likely be repeated in the coming months. A compromise earlier this year stripped Kelly of some of her powers to respond and extended her original declaration. It also gave the council the ability to make 30-day extensions through January 2021 — when the next legislative session starts.

Kelly’s declaration has done everything from delay the tax-filing deadline to blocking some foreclosures and evictions (some of those orders have now been put into state law, but others would expire when the declaration is up).

Plus, the court system has also delayed deadlines, and attorneys argue without a declaration, criminal cases could be dismissed because trials haven’t been held. Last week, the Kansas Supreme Court issued guidance on resuming jury trials.

Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter@kprkoranda.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service, based at KCUR. He has nearly 20 years of experience in public media as a reporter and editor.