Supporters passed a bipartisan plan Thursday aimed at giving lawmakers some oversight of Governor Laura Kelly’s response to the coronavirus after cutting off a debate over preventing pandemic-related lawsuits.
The measure gives legislative leaders a say in how $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds are spent, limits Kelly’s power to close businesses, and provides some protection from lawsuits to businesses, medical providers and nursing homes.
The measure resulted from negotiations between top Republican legislators and Kelly and her staff.
Kelly called the bill a “victory for Kansans” and said in a statement, “I will sign this legislation.”
Kelly vetoed an earlier measure that would have curbed her power to direct the state’s coronavirus response, passed by Republicans last month in the final moments of the Legislature’s annual session.
She called a special legislative session to get lawmakers to extend a state of emergency for the pandemic due to expire Wednesday.
The governor made key concessions, ending statewide restrictions on businesses May 26 and agreeing to limits on her power and restrictions on lawsuits that she and other Democrats opposed.
The bill extends the state of emergency until September 15, and allows it to continue into late January 2021 if legislative leaders consent.
“On balance, it’s where we need to be,” said Senator David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat. “It’s better, perhaps, than we’ve had and the best we’re going to get.”
The vote Thursday in the Senate was 26-12, and came after the House approved the bill Wednesday night, 107-12.
After the bill passed, lawmakers adjourned their two-day special session.
Supporters in the Senate forced it to vote without a debate, cutting off any chance for critics to try to change its contents.
Kelly’s staff made it clear to legislators that if they gave businesses and nursing homes greater protections from lawsuits, she’d likely veto the measure.
“There’s a queen bee, and the drones do exactly what they’re told,” said conservative Republican Senator Dennis Pyle, of Hiawatha. “The people of Kansas don’t elect us to come up here and be drones.”
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican who helped negotiate the new plan, said lawmakers had thoroughly vetted the issues previously and supporters “just wanted to get our work done.”