GOP Kansas lawmakers curb Democrat Kelly's emergency powers

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers on Thursday extended a state of emergency prompted by the coronavirus crisis after making sure it gave the GOP-controlled Legislature oversight over the actions of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

The Senate voted 39-0 and the House 115-0 to approve a resolution to extend the state of emergency until May 1 and to allow legislative leaders to extend it further every 30 days. Kelly declared a state of emergency last week, and without the resolution, it would have expired March 27.

But the resolution also requires legislative leaders to review all of Kelly's executive orders and allows them to overturn many of them within days. It also prohibits Kelly from having guns and ammunition seized or blocking their sale.

Conservative Republicans were upset with an order from Kelly to close K-12 schools for the rest of the spring semester and wanted to block her from using sweeping gubernatorial powers granted to deal with short-term disasters. But Democrats said going as far as conservatives wanted could prevent Kelly from setting up quarantine zones or taking other essential actions.

“This really strikes a balance between giving the governor the power that she needs to act swiftly to protect lives here in Kansas and also making sure there are appropriate checks and balances on the exercise of that power,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, an Ottawa Republican.

Democrats said requiring legislative leaders' oversight is workable, and lawmakers conferred with Kelly's administration on the final language. But Democrats remained frustrated that conservatives moved to curb Kelly's power.

"I just think we've complicated things too much, but at this particular time, we need to pass this and go on about our business," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.

Kelly's approval wasn't necessary for the resolution to take effect, but the governor on Thursday signed three other bills approved by lawmakers to deal with the new coronavirus.

The new laws give jobless workers an additional 10 weeks of unemployment benefits, allow the courts to delay deadlines for trials and filing lawsuits and make it easier to waive a requirement for public schools to provide 186 days of in-person instruction for most schools.

At least 34 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Kansas, according to the state health department. The state has had one COVID-19-related death.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Separately Thursday, Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said state standardized tests will be cancelled this year because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus, unless something changes “dramatically.”

A Kansas education task force has rolled out guidelines to help school districts, teachers and parents navigate remote learning.

The state agency that regulates alcohol sales also issued memos allowing curbside pickup at liquor stores and the sale of beer and wine in sealed containers curbside or at drive-throughs. Kelly hasn't ordered restaurants shuttered, but some localities have.

Also Thursday, Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids announced that she's self-quarantining after she came into contact with another member of Congress who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Davids said in a statement that she's following guidance from Congress' attending physician and working from home until March 26 “out of an abundance of caution." She said she doesn't have symptoms.

"We all have a role to play in reducing the spread of this virus, and that means self-quarantining when appropriate,” she said.

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Ballentine reported from Columbia, Mo.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak


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