This Week in Topeka
June 1-5, 2020
Business, Economic Development & Local Government News from the Legislative Session
Lawmakers returned to Topeka on Wednesday after Governor Laura Kelly called for a special session to address emergency powers and other issues related to COVID-19. The special session came on the heels of a tumultuous and nearly 24-hour sine die session on May 21.
While Governor Kelly vetoed several pieces of legislation – including a multi-faceted proposal dealing with property taxes that drew lots of attention during the regular session - lawmakers spent the two days of special session focused on reworking a series of proposals specific to COVID-19.
The lone bill that passed during the special session, HB 2016, is not substantially different from the bill (HB 2054) vetoed by Governor Kelly. However, negotiations between the governor and legislative leadership led to a few tweaks and Governor Kelly is expected to sign this bill into law.
Here are a few provisions of the bill:
Federal CARES Funding – any federal money coming in from the federal CARES Act will go into the newly created Coronavirus Relief Fund. Kansas is expected to receive more than $1.2 billion with more than $116 million of that specifically set aside for Johnson County. Under the legislation the Governor can make recommendations on expenditures from the fund, but State Finance Council (Finance Council) approval will be needed before the expenditure is authorized. The Finance Council consists of eight lawmakers from leadership, appropriations committee chairs and the Governor.
State of Emergency Disaster Declaration – extends the official emergency disaster declaration to September 15, 2020. Any new declaration after that date – specific to COVID 19 – requires Finance Council approval.
The bill also places restrictions on future business closures in new disaster declarations. The Governor can only close businesses for 15 days and the Finance Council will have to have 24-hour advance notice. Closures beyond 15-days would require Finance Council approval.
Additionally, the bill clarifies that counties can adopt local orders LESS stringent than a state order provided they meet certain criteria including consultation with the local health officer.
County Health Officer Orders – The bill clarifies that any order issued by the county health officer can be reviewed, amended or revoked by the board of county commissioners. Currently that authority does not exist.
Schools – The bill establishes that the Governor cannot order schools closed unless the State Board of Education affirms the Governor’s order.
Liability Provisions – provides liability protection to health care providers; manufacturers of COVID-19 relief supplies and businesses. The immunity provisions are retroactive to March 12, 2020 and some provisions, including the general business liability provision, will expire on January 26, 2021.
As it relates to businesses, the legislation reads, “A person, or an agent of a person, conducting business in this state shall be immune from liability in a civil action for a COVID-19 claim if such person was acting pursuant to and in substantial compliance with public health directives applicable to the activity giving rise to the cause of action when the cause of action occurred.”
For the purposes of this portion of the bill the definition of “person” includes for-profit and not-for-profit businesses and other business entities. “Public health directive” generally is defined as specific guidance from official federal, state and local governmental entities.
More specific provisions are included for entities that manufactured or sold equipment and supplies in support of COVID-19 relief efforts.
Nursing Homes – are not granted broad liability protections but are granted an affirmative defense for COVID-19 related claims.
Workers’ Comp – clarifies that nothing in the bill “…creates, recognizes, or ratifies a claim or cause of action of any kind…” as it relates to workers’ compensation laws, rules and regulations.
Executive orders – the bill clarifies that some – but not all executive orders issued during COVID 19 are fully backed with appropriate statutory language. Included are the executive orders dealing with curbside alcohol; electronic provisions for operations of court system; first responder info sharing and online notary provisions. There was concern that some of these actions, without being codified into statute, could be called into question later.
All legislation not signed into law will need to be reintroduced at the start of the 2021 session that begins at 2 pm on January 11, 2021.
Public Policy & Advocacy Committee: noon on Friday, June 19
Primary Election: August 4, 2020
General Election: November 3, 2020