State lawmakers had been scheduled to return to Topeka next week to resume this year’s legislative session. But it is now unclear when they might return.
And a decision not to return next week has raised questions about the continuation of a disaster declaration for the state, according to lawmakers from Leavenworth County.
“It’s very much up in the air,” said state Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie.
Legislators were scheduled to return from a break on Monday. But earlier this week, members of the Legislative Coordinating Council voted to postpone the lawmakers’ return to the Statehouse.
The LCC is made up of Republican and Democratic leaders from the Kansas House of Representatives and Senate.
Based on the LCC’s decision, it appears lawmakers will not resume their session until sometime after May 6.
Karleskint said there is a possibility lawmakers may not return at all this year.
Part of the difficulty in reassembling lawmakers during the COVID-19 crisis is their age.
Karleskint said a large majority of the members of the Kansas House of Representatives and Senate are older than 60. This places them at a higher risk of developing severe health complications from COVID-19. And Karleskint said many of these members also have other health issues which puts them at an even greater risk.
Karleskint said the chambers of the House and Senate do not lend themselves to social distancing.
But Karleskint said it may still be possible for lawmakers to meet while observing social distancing. He said one possible option would be for lawmakers to use technology to listen to discussions about bills from their offices. They then could vote on the bills in the chambers in small groups.
Karleskint said the Kansas Constitution requires lawmakers to be in Topeka in order to vote on legislation.
State Rep. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, said the COVID-19 crisis is unlike other disasters faced by the state. He said other disasters have not prevented lawmakers from meeting at the Statehouse.
While lawmakers already have approved a budget, Karleskint said there remains other legislation he would like to see passed this year including a bill that would provide property tax relief for the owners of agricultural structures that were destroyed last year by a tornado.
The decision to delay the return of lawmakers has raised concerns about a COVID-19 disaster declaration for the state that is set to expire next week. The expiration of the declaration could impact federal disaster funding for Kansas. It also could impact other executive orders issued by the governor in response to the COVID-19 crisis, according to Pittman.
He said the Legislature can extend the declaration if they are in session.
He said Gov. Laura Kelly also can issue a new disaster declaration, but this may require the state to reapply for federal aid.
Pittman said this would not be as efficient as an extension approved by the Legislature.
Pittman said lawmakers also may want to pass legislation to clarify who can authorize extensions of disaster declarations when the Legislature is not in session.
Karleskint and Pittman said lawmakers also may want to address budgetary issues that have resulted from the COVID-19 crisis when they return to session.