Flags at half-staff to honor legislator

Flags are flying at half-staff at all state buildings and facilities Wednesday in honor of State Rep. Ron Howard, a conservative Wichita Republican.

Rep. Howard, who died Tuesday, was 67. He was in office since 2019, representing District 98.

“My thoughts are with Rep. Ron Howard’s wife, Terri, and all of his friends and family during this difficult time,” Gov. Laura Kelly said. “A former Boeing worker and lawn care service owner, Rep. Howard shared a proud, hardworking background with many in his South Wichita and Haysville district. Despite facing difficult health challenges, Rep. Howard’s perseverance demonstrated his strong dedication to those he served.”

Governor says state to continue to fight against COVID-19 despite disaster declaration expiring

Kansas will continue its fight against COVID-19, according to Gov. Laura Kelly.

Although the Kansas disaster declaration was allowed to expire today by the Legislative Coordinating Council, the state will continue its effort to vaccinate people, she said.

“We are going to keep doing what we have been doing,” Gov. Kelly said Tuesday. “It just will be harder without the disaster declaration.”

The declaration allowed the state to activate some resources including the Kansas National Guard and Emergency Management Division, and they will no longer have that ability, she said. They will still fight COVID-19, it will just be a different process, more cumbersome and more expensive, and starting from scratch putting it in place, she added.

The emergency declaration would have allowed the state to continue to contract with a number of nurses who provide vaccinations, Gov. Kelly said. She added they would have to revamp and figure out a different way to do it.

Also, by ending the state disaster declaration, it complicates the state’s relationships with the local units of government and the local health departments, she said. The state will have to figure out a different way to partner with the local health departments to make sure they’re getting what they need, she added.

A lot of the local services were in partnership with the state and with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, she said.

“We will continue to work with people and for people,” Gov. Kelly said. “It is just more complicated.”

There was no good reason other than political reasons to end this disaster declaration now, she added.

“Our intent was to ramp up our vaccination efforts in our school-age kids,” she said, making sure they had their vaccinations before schools reopened in August. “That’s something that we’ll do, but the state will have to pay for it and will have to put in place a new structure.”

The governor had submitted a detailed plan to the Legislative Coordinating Council to extend the disaster declaration (see http://www.wyandottedaily.com/governor-asks-lcc-to-extend-states-disaster-declaration/).

Wyandotte County extended its own local state of emergency for 90 days by a unanimous vote of the Unified Government Commission on June 10. This action will allow the local government to receive federal funding for the vaccination sites and other efforts to fight COVID-19, according to local officials.

The state was receiving federal funding for vaccination clinics and also for other programs, such as extra assistance for those on food stamps.

Gov. Kelly, state and local health officials saved countless numbers of lives during the 15 months the disaster declaration was in place in Kansas.

On Tuesday, the governor credited local public health departments with being remarkably responsive, innovative and absolutely passionate about the future.

Tuesday morning, the Legislative Coordinating Council let the disaster declaration expire by canceling the meeting where it was scheduled to be discussed. The declaration expires today. Senate President Ty Masterson released a statement, with Senate Vice President Rick Wilborn and Majority Larry Alley:

“At last month’s LCC meeting, a majority of legislative leaders made it clear that June 15th was likely to be the end of the state of emergency – that after 15 months, it is time for Kansas to return to normal. As such, the LCC recommended the governor develop an exit strategy to end the emergency – however, after reviewing the governor’s letter, it appears the governor opted for an extension strategy.

“The legislature and the LCC have granted the governor every extension request over the last year, but the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19 no longer necessitate a statewide disaster emergency. The governor has not provided adequate justification for the LCC to grant her request for yet another extension, and all remaining efforts related to COVID-19 can and should take place under our normal procedures. As such, the statewide disaster emergency will expire as planned.”

Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Vicki Hiatt stated:
“The decision by Kansas Republican leaders to end the disaster declaration is nothing more than reckless political action that risks the health of Kansas families and our small businesses. To be clear, ending the disaster declaration doesn’t end the pandemic, it only makes it more difficult for the state to administer vaccines — especially to our children who will be going back to school come August.”

Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins issued a statement, with Speaker Ron Ryckman and Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, all Republicans:

“Today marks 460 days since the Governor’s declaration of a disaster related to COVID-19. It is time for the declared disaster to end and recovery to begin. We asked the Governor for a detailed plan to justify the need for a further extension and the winding down of our state’s emergency response. What we received was an acknowledgment that nearly all executive orders could end immediately, and nearly all mission assignments could be closed by today. The Governor has failed to make a case for continuing the extraordinary measures that come with a declared disaster.

“The remaining goal to make vaccines available to all Kansans who want them is one that our state can achieve without emergency measures and executive orders. There are adequate medical personnel to meet the current demand for vaccines and the regular authority available to the Governor under the laws of our state is sufficient to meet these needs.

“The emergency part of this disaster has thankfully passed. Now is the time to help Kansans recover, rally and return to normal.”

Legislative group rules that evictions and foreclosures can start again

The Kansas Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC) on Friday met and revoked the Kansas eviction and foreclosure moratorium.

The move was opposed by Gov. Laura Kelly, who had issued executive order No. 21-13 prohibiting foreclosures and evictions on April 1 for those persons whose financial hardships had been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Kansas Legislature voted to limit the governor’s authority and substitute the Legislative Coordinating Council.

With the LCC action on Friday, evictions and foreclosures can begin again in Kansas. However, there have been reports in the community that many evictions already have taken place in the past month, before the action was taken Friday.

The LCC is made up of Kansas legislative leaders.

Also on Friday, the LCC extended the state of emergency in Kansas until June 15.

Gov. Kelly’s spokesperson, Reeves Oyster, issued this statement: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Governor Kelly has taken a clear-eyed, practical approach and empowered the people who know how to handle emergencies best. Maj. General Weishaar has been clear about the importance of this disaster declaration. It is central to how we get Kansas back to normal. We can not put our recovery at risk.

“The Governor strongly disagrees with the LCC’s decision to revoke her evictions and foreclosure moratorium. As we finally start to recover from this global pandemic, now is not the time to kick people out of their homes. Governor Kelly will continue to focus on doing what’s right – and not what’s politically convenient.”

A statement was issued by House leaders on the LCC action setting the end of the state’s disaster emergency declaration, from Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, and Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa:

“This week, the Governor requested yet another extension of her emergency authority from the Legislative Coordinating Council when refusing to provide Kansans with even the most basic plan to return our state to normal. Today’s action by the LCC to end the emergency declaration on June 15 brings needed certainty to the people of Kansas, while giving those serving on the front lines of the pandemic time to form a plan of transition from emergency response to routine operations. Republicans believe that the incredible men and women of the Kansas National Guard and those who serve in other areas of emergency management deserve the thanks of our entire state. Kansans deserve an end to government by emergency and a more measured response that moves our state forward. Today’s action by the LCC does exactly that.”

Kansas Democratic Party Chair Vicki Hiatt issued a statement in response to the Legislative Coordinating Council ending the eviction moratorium put in place during COVID-19:

“Today, we saw Republicans in the Kansas Legislature again put politics above public health as Sen. Masterson, Rep. Ryckman, Sen. Alley, Sen. Wilborn, Rep. Hawkins, and Rep. Finch voted to end Governor Kelly’s eviction moratorium and kick Kansans experiencing financial hardship out of their homes. This decision is cruel and punitive, bad for our recovering workforce, and devastating for vulnerable families. Kansans will remember that when they needed help the most, Republicans turned their backs to score cheap political points.”