House Overwhelmingly Passes COVID Response Plan

The Kansas House, on a bipartisan vote of 107-12, approved a COVID response plan (House Bill 2016) that modernizes the state’s emergency disaster laws and places common-sense checks and balances on government authority.

“From the get-go, lawmakers have been focused on how to protect the people of Kansas while also protecting our jobs and our economy through this national pandemic,” said Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe). “This plan strikes that balance.”

“Lawmakers have worked over the past week trying to pinpoint the Governor’s opposition to the original plan, and she now indicates she will sign the bill,” said House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita). “Kansas is counting on her to keep that promise.”

“For every state, COVID-19 has created new challenges. But, in Kansas, we were faced with the added challenge of outdated emergency disaster laws that did not provide appropriate checks and balances,” said Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch (R-Ottawa). “This will bring Kansas law up-to-date and provide a solid framework so our families, our businesses, and our schools will have more certainty going forward.”

Finch said Kansas statutes regarding emergency disasters had not been evaluated since 1975 and had not been tested through a human health pandemic. They were instead written to address animal health pandemics and emergencies with a short-lived impact, such as flooding and tornado damage.

Key Points in House Bill 2016: Governmental Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

These key provisions mirror the bill (House Bill 2054) that was vetoed by the Governor:

  • Extends unemployment benefits from 16 to 26 weeks and waives the one-week waiting period for Kansans impacted by layoffs during the pandemic.
  • Protects employers from large increases in unemployment insurance premiums so they are not hit harder by the high rate of unemployment resulting from the pandemic.
  • Preserves local control by giving local health officials and county commissioners the flexibility to determine the right approach for their community. This prevents counties and businesses that are not seeing a significant impact from being bound by a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • Implements certain liability protections for businesses, including those that adapted their business model in order to assist during the pandemic with the production of hand sanitizer, masks or other protective equipment that they wouldn’t normally produce.
  • Implements liability protection for doctors, nurses and other first responders to help protect our frontline health care workers from COVID-related lawsuits while they are providing critical care during the pandemic.
  • Requires that any governor’s use of executive power be done within the bounds of the Constitution and existing state law. These guardrails will allow governors to take swift action on an emergency response but does not allow a governor to violate Kansans’ Constitutional rights or break the law while exercising the powers of the position.
  • Provides oversight of federal stimulus funds. Modeled after the state’s distribution of other federal stimulus funds, such as ARRA funds provided to the state in 2009, this plan allows a governor to propose a plan for those dollars and for members of the legislative branch to approve or amend that plan. This is the same process used in the budgeting and appropriation of other funds coming into the state and keeps the appropriation of these federal stimulus dollars consistent with that process.
  • Protects Kansans from unfair criminal prosecution. The state’s outdated law allowed certain violations of a governor’s executive orders to be punishable by up to a year in jail or a $2,500 fine. This bill converts violations of all executive orders from carrying a criminal penalty to instead carry a civil penalty. This means executive orders would still have teeth, but local law enforcement would have consistency in their ability to prevent violations, and Kansans would not face jail time over executive orders.

What’s the Difference?

Here’s what has changed from House Bill 2054, the bill vetoed by the Governor, and House Bill 2016:

  • Adds the legislature’s budget chairpersons to federal stimulus fund oversight, by changing legislative oversight of federal funds from the Legislative Coordinating Council to the State Finance Council.
  • Extends the current declaration to September 15, during which time the provisions put in place by the Governor on May 26 will remain in place – which means no business closures, no restrictions on movement, and no restrictions on gatherings. Under this provision, the State Finance Council (on a vote of 6 of 8 members) can agree to extend after September 15 but no longer than January 26, 2021.
  • Limits business closures. If the Governor orders business closures after the Sept. 15 declaration period, that measure must come before the State Finance Council. Business closures may only be done for 15 days before requiring the State Finance Council review.
  • Preserving election integrity. Reiterates that the Governor does not have the authority to change the state’s election process.
  • Includes the State Board of Education in school closure decisions. Provides that the Governor may not close schools without a majority vote of the state board of education.
  • Adds additional local control on health orders. Removes the red tape of having the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) ratify local health orders, and instead grants county commissioners the ability to review, amend or revoke local health orders as needed. Commissioners may be less restrictive but must enter findings to affirm the justification for less restrictive measures.
  • Limits nursing home protections. Provides restricted liability protections for nursing homes if they are required by the state to take or keep COVID-positive patients and if they are operating in compliance with all applicable laws as an affirmative defense.
  • COVID-19 Contact Tracing Privacy Act. Prohibits governmental entities from mandating contact tracing programs and using cellphone location data to identify or track the movement of persons.