Serving as House majority leader, I regularly receive calls and emails from across the state. COVID-19 has only increased the number. It’s truly heartbreaking to hear from Kansans who have invested their entire life savings and years of hard work into building a business only to have it taken away by the response to this pandemic.
We’ve all had to sacrifice as a result of COVID-19, but what is infuriating is those who have suffered unnecessarily due to incompetence from their state government. As we’ve gained further perspective on Gov. Kelly’s lockdown of businesses, it has become strikingly clear how often that was occurring.
During Gov. Kelly’s lockdown, those businesses deemed essential by the Kelly administration were allowed to remain open while those labeled non-essential were forced to close.
Kansas businesses could individually petition the Kelly administration in an effort to find out whether they were allowed to stay open. Throughout the lockdown legislators commonly heard from constituents who had been denied the ability to open despite having the ability to operate safely while another similar business was allowed to open.
It quickly became apparent that the process put in place by the Kelly administration was haphazard at best. A recent report by Americans for Prosperity Foundation Kansas shows it was even worse than we ever realized.
The report uncovered numerous requests from businesses that could have stayed open with a single employee on the premises and other employees working from home. These applications were denied.
One such company employs 100 people. By allowing one person at a time to work in the warehouse packaging orders, the business could have remained operational with all other employees working at home. This company’s request was denied, and the recent report shows they were hardly alone.
To make matters worse, additional Kansas Open Records Act requests have revealed that one individual in the Kelly administration appears to have had extraordinary power in making these decisions. That same person apparently also handled the appeals. That means if a small business owner was told they could not open, the only recourse was to appeal to the same person who made the original decision.
This is an unacceptable lack of due process.
Some have questioned the wisdom of the Legislature’s decision to remove Gov. Kelly’s authority to impose another statewide lockdown and instead make it a county-by-county decision.
Shutting down a small business and taking away the livelihoods of the owners and employees literally ruins lives. If COVID-19 requires such actions in response, the people impacted deserve a process that is fair, consistent, makes logical sense, and contains a robust appeal process.
The Kelly administration’s process failed every one of these tests. That is one of the main reasons the Legislature has removed the one size fits all option.
COVID-19 has presented new challenges for all of us. No one expects perfection, but Kansans deserve a government that is working for them, not implementing processes that make matters worse.
The Kansas Legislature is working to fix this problem going forward. Republican leadership has set up an interim committee to look at updating our emergency management statutes. We all hope that COVID-19 is soon a thing of the past and that we never encounter another situation like this.
While we can’t legislate away COVID-19, we can work to ensure that this type of egregious treatment of Kansas small business owners never happens again.
Dan Hawkins is the Kansas House majority leader.