Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday she would seek a renewal of the state’s COVID-19 emergency declaration when it expires next week.
While the move isn’t a surprise, it does set up a confrontation with the State Finance Council, which must approve any such extension under a compromise hammered out in June between the governor and legislators.
Kelly pointed to the rising case counts as justification for the move. The state reported 1,694 new cases of the coronavirus since Friday, along with four deaths.
"We still have an emergency here," she said at a Statehouse news conference. "Just because Sept. 15 comes does not mean that the emergency is going to go away. It is absolutely imperative that we extend the declaration."
The order is necessary to ensure an uninterrupted disaster response and many contend it is also vital for ensuring that federal relief funds continue to flow.
Republican lawmakers, however, have countered with guidance from the federal government that they believe underscores that a declaration isn’t necessary to get that aid.
Supporting local governments, Kelly said, was vital. Local officials have argued a statewide declaration makes it easier for them to issue local emergency orders, as well as access state relief resources.
"If we don’t have an emergency declaration, it is impossible for the state to assist our local municipal government in dealing with this emergency," Kelly said. "It’s not keeping me in the game, it is making sure that we can get to the counties what they need."
The governor ran into pushback the first time she sought a renewal of the disaster order in May, with Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Republican lawmakers arguing she lacked the authority to do so unilaterally.
Eventually, the governor and the Legislature reached a compromise on legislation, House Bill 2016, that would extent the order until Sept. 15. The bill also curbed Kelly’s powers on a host of other issues, including closing schools and businesses.
Also starting Sept. 15, however, Kelly can reimpose restrictions on businesses statewide, although only for a maximum of 15 days. At that point the governor would need State Finance Council approval.
Kelly has been mum on whether that is on the table, however. She has stressed that Kansans should wear masks and practice social distancing in order to keep schools and businesses open.
Republican lawmakers have said that any such move would prompt a major showdown.
"I think that where she would get into trouble is after declaring that emergency is if she issues other statewide orders, as she has in the past, relating to school attendance or relating to business closures," Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said last week.
Kelly was again circumspect on the matter Monday.
"We are monitoring this closely," Kelly said. "And we’re discussing this with our public health officials, both at the state, federal and local level. And we’ll make any decisions accordingly."