Legislative one-day session topic at virtual legislative coffee

Seven local legislators spoke at the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce’s virual legislative coffee on Saturday.

One topic addressed was the upcoming legislative session on May 21.

Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dighton), wished there were more days to meet to debate more legislation.

“We left town on March 19, having completed 66 of our allotted 90 legislative days,” he said. “The number of bills that we have passed to the governor and have been signed into law so far this session is eight, compared to 2019 there were 66 bills passed into law and in 2018 there was 118 ... so obviously we're way behind the curve and some very good legislation will get left without being enacted into law because there simply won't be enough time.”

Rep. John Wheeler (R-Garden City), is displeased that there has been so few meetings for legislative discussion.

“I’m disappointed that this year’s legislature has accomplished so little,” he said.

Sen. Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), said there is a lot to discuss during the session. In particular they need to discuss legislation for unemployment and liability protection because there are lawsuits coming down the pipeline from those involved in “healthcare related to the COVID-19 crisis.”

“All our health care facilities had to shut down to make sure we had ventilators and PPE and space in our hospitals to care for those who might get COVID-19,” she said. “So we shut down our voluntary procedures, our diagnostic procedures and there's lawsuits coming from people that had delayed procedures and now they find out they have a conditions.”

There will also be lawsuits from private businesses in relation to COVID-19, Wagle said.

Additionally there is a bill to be discussed about delaying penalties and interest on property taxes if someone couldn’t make their payment, Wagle said.

A lot needs to be discussed during the session, Wagle said.

“There’s a lot of bills that we feel like have to be in place before we adjourn,” she said.

The representatives also discussed concerns about the Gov. Laura Kelly’s emergency orders.

Rep. Russ Jennings (R-Lakin), said the governor has demonstrated a willingness to impose successive emergency declarations and he is concerned about the “absolute authority” of the governor in ways that “make sense.”

“I think we should look back to the resolution we passed in the last day that we were all together and find a way to codify a process that allows for a system of checks and balances but doesn't impede our governor — whether it's governor Kelly or a governor in the future from making decisive actions when the circumstance dictates that something needs to be done,” he said.

Sen. John Doll (R-Garden City), said he’s upset how with the reopening all counties are being treated the same, but they’re not all “in a position where one size fits all.”

“We need to be smart and safe, but nonetheless we have to be cognizant of the people that are suffering from this and we got to get opened up as quick as we can,” he said.

Sen. Randall Hardy (R-Salina), agrees.

“When you've never been in a pandemic before you don't know how much is too much and how much is not enough,” he said. “Now we know more than we did in the middle of March, and I'm hoping that going forward that we can start to compartmentalize our approach to the response to COVID-19 and if we have hot spots we can stomp on those little areas instead of taking a broad brush and using it all across the state of Kansas.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), spoke at the beginning of the meeting and said mental health services need to have more attention across the country and especially in rural Kansas.

“We now have a mental health and suicide prevention hotline, 9-8-8,” he said. “The bill passed the senate, it isn't functioning yet, but we're headed in a direction in which there is a number ... once it becomes law.”

Wagle agrees that mental health is an issue in Kansas, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The calls to the suicide lines are up 8,000 percent. People are worried about how they're going to pay their bills. In Kansas they're worried about how they're going to get their unemployment checks,” she said. “This insecurity, this cloud of financial insecurity that we're under is very detrimental to the mental health of many Kansans.”