Local representatives are disappointed after the Kansas Legislature passed a bill that restricts Gov. Laura Kelly’s powers during the coronavirus outbreak.
“I had a question,” said Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan. “Would they have done that if it was a Republican governor? And I don’t think so.”
The bill was one of the items on the agenda for the legislature as it reconvened Thursday for what turned into an all-night meeting. The legislature adjourned early in March because of the coronavirus outbreak. Lawmakers returned to Topeka Thursday to wrap up the session and adjourned at about 8 a.m.
The bill asserts control over Kelly’s pandemic response and gives counties the power to set rules more lax than the statewide standards. It also gives the Republican-controlled legislature the power to block decisions by the Democratic governor on how to spend federal coronavirus relief money coming to the state.
The Senate passed the bill at 6:30 a.m. in a 27-11 vote. The House followed just before 8 a.m. in a 76-34 vote. The bill now goes to Kelly’s desk, though she’s expected to veto it.
“It was really, really sad it took them until 8 o’clock this morning to get it done,” said Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, on Friday.
Carlin and Hawk were sleeping in their respective cars when this reporter called Friday morning after they had spent more than 24 hours in the Kansas Statehouse.
“I also think that people have forgotten, and I got that stark impression, how deadly this virus is,” Hawk said.
He said he was unhappy with the way Republicans handled the situation.
He pointed to how President Trump said Wednesday the governor was fantastic in her handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Kelly made a visit to Washington, D.C., to visit Trump earlier this week.
“I did not hear my Republican legislators recognizing that,” Hawk said. “I was not happy with what the Republican leadership put out, and I didn’t vote for that.”
Carlin said she was disappointed with the immaturity shown by some officials Thursday. She also raised concerns about the lack of people wearing masks.
“When we walked in yesterday morning at 7:30, we were told to wear masks,” she said. “It was optional, but it was highly encouraged.”
Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, said he left at around 8 p.m. Thursday night and did not vote.
“At about 7 o’clock last night, it occurred to me that the whole situation was going to turn pretty awkward,” he said.
He said he didn’t support the bill either. Phillips announced earlier this week he is not running for re-election.
Carlin and Hawk have announced they’re running for re-election.
“The leadership of both chambers was bound and determined to achieve their own agenda and not really take into consideration what was a proper protocol,” Phillips said.
Republicans also blocked debate of a Medicaid expansion bill Thursday.
Hawk said he was highly disappointed because he said the majority of Kansans want Medicaid expansion.
“In life, you don’t always have the opportunity to do what’s right,” he said. “And that was an opportunity that was squandered.”
Carlin, who supports expansion, said she was not surprised it was rejected. Phillips also supports Medicaid expansion.
“It was really just a sad day for the Legislature, I thought,” Phillips said.
Carlin said now she is nervous about the coronavirus infecting people who were at the Statehouse.
“I’m afraid that by being in the room that long, so close together, 24 hours, it will be a miracle if somebody doesn’t come out sick with that,” she said.
She said she is praying no one contracted the coronavirus.
“I think we have a very bad situation, and I hope nobody spreads this back across the state,” she said.
Hawk raised similar concerns. He said he is going to quarantine himself because he doesn’t want to get his loved ones, especially his wife, sick.
“I want to make sure that, if indeed I was exposed, and I don’t want to give it to my wife and my loved ones,” he said. “I’m going to stay away or back.”
In the end, Phillips said he thinks the governor will veto the legislation passed.
He said he agreed work needed to be done and said officials should look at the executive orders by the governor, but he wished the legislature would have slowed down and not tried to rush everything.