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TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed three bills Monday related to forming a $60 million business loan program tied to the pandemic, developing a new college scholarship initiative and allowing for delayed property tax payments to local units of government.
Kelly, a Democrat, signed less-controversial legislation, including bills on wireless communications, restitution requirements of criminals and dropping a mandate on scrap-metal dealers to photograph junk vehicles. The package was adopted a week ago by the Legislature during a 24-hour session.
Kelly called lawmakers back to Topeka on Wednesday to work on a pandemic bill. She also requested legislative leaders extend her 15-day disaster declaration to maintain continuity of the state’s emergency operation.
She said the vetoed loan program would have provided state funding for banks to loan cash to businesses damaged by COVID-19. The 10-year program would make up to $60 million available for low-interest loans to businesses and agricultural producers.
It would have been administered by the state Treasurer Jake LaTurner, a Republican, rather than the Kansas Department of Commerce. The measure also included a tax break for banking institutions, she said.
"I support efforts to provide economic relief to Kansas small businesses and agricultural producers who have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic," the governor said. "However, federal funding made available to Kansas through the CARES Act is a more appropriate funding source for this effort."
She said the state’s projected $1.3 billion budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year made it necessary to limit expenditures.
Kelly also vetoed House Bill 2510, which included free ACT exams for high school students and a new report card for children in foster care. The Kansas Promise Scholarship is a laudable effort to make higher education more accessible to vulnerable Kansans who come of age in the foster care system, she said.
"Although well-intentioned, House Bill 2510 as a whole would annually deplete millions from state funds," Kelly said. "I cannot in good conscience sign a bill establishing a new discretionary spending program that is unrelated to Kansas COVID-19 response efforts when such severe financial strain looms in the months ahead."
The governor also rejected House Bill 2702. It would have allowed property tax payments to be made as late as Aug. 10 without penalty or interest. That deprives local governments of of essential funding at a time it is needed the most, she said.
Cities and counties cannot meet increased demand for police, fire, emergency medical and other services if a primary funding source for local governments is withdrawn, the governor said.
"I have long supported responsible property tax relief, but the provisions of HB 2702 cause more problems than they solve," Kelly said.
The governor previously vetoed the Legislature’s sweeping bill limiting the governor’s control of COVID-19 funding as well as executive branch authority over decisions intended to restrict spread of the virus.
Kansas hits 10,000
Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said testing had revealed 10,011 cases of infection in the state, an increase of 292 since last Friday.
In addition, he said, the number of deaths had climbed to 217, up nine from three days ago.
Norman said the statistical trend in 13 counties was not positive, but those with improving metrics included Ford, Finney, Seward and Lyon counties with meatpacking plants and the most populous counties of Johnson, Wyandotte and Sedgwick.
"It shows us if people are attentive to doing things we recommend, that this will show improvement," he said.
County officials have taken the lead in deciding how much to open economic life after statewide orders issued by the governor expired.
Norman said recreational or protest gatherings of people were a bad idea because most participants wouldn’t adhere to social distancing recommendations. Stay at home, wear a mask and wash hands, he said.
"The more people gather ... the more they let their guard down," he said.
An auditing committee of the Legislature voted Monday to order a review of problems at the Kansas Department of Labor that inhibited timely processing and payment of unemployment compensation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Republican-led Legislative Post Audit Committee agreed to review challenges faced by the Kelly administration in issuing aid to Kansans thrown out of work by state- or county-ordered business closures and broad collapse in demand for goods and services.
"Thousands of unemployed Kansans were let down by the safety net designed to protect them during this unforeseen setback," said Sen. Julia Lynn, a Johnson County Republican who chairs the joint House and Senate panel. "We, as a Legislature, have a duty to our constituents to get to the bottom of this problem."
Kelly said she welcomed the opportunity for other elected officials to confirm enormity of information-technology challenges faced by the Department of Labor.
"Go for it," she said. "Maybe it actually would be helpful in making the case for massive overhaul. I’m glad for them to take a deep dive in that."
Delia Garcia, secretary of the labor department, told legislative committees in recent weeks the influx of 200,000 applications for jobless benefits overwhelmed the state’s computer system. The network was to have been overhauled a decade ago, but the project was blocked by then-Gov. Sam Brownback.
Converting the system to handle expanded benefits to self-employed people and to accommodate a $600 weekly benefit funded by the federal government complicated the agency’s IT operations, Garcia said.
The five-month audit is to be broken into two phases. Initally, auditors will solicit confidential and anonymous feedback from Department of Labor employees about
The second phase of the audit will investigate factors contributing to delays in claims processing, work by the labor department in response to processing delays and the potential of stronger oversight of the agency.