TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a formal legal opinion Thursday addressing whether a state law that authorizes criminal prosecution of Kansans who violate emergency orders issued by the governor is constitutional and enforceable.
The Opinion notes that the Kansas Emergency Management Act (KEMA) places on the governor responsibility to respond to disasters and grants broad authority to do so. Because of the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of emergency powers has been unprecedented since the KEMA was enacted in 1975, with 31 emergency orders issued by the governor in the past 10 weeks. The Opinion does not address federal, state or local emergency authority outside the KEMA.
In response to these developments, Governor Kelly’s office released the following statement Thursday:
“Governor Kelly welcomes an honest conversation about the Kansas Emergency Management Act. The Act has been in place for nearly 45 years and has served the state well for more common emergencies like fires, floods and tornadoes. In fact, not since the Spanish Flu hit our state more than 100 years ago has any governor been forced to take the steps Governor Kelly has taken to protect the safety and health of all Kansans. Ironically, KEMA was the modernization of several earlier emergency powers granted to the governor, by the Legislature, following the 1918 pandemic.
Unfortunately, this is not an honest conversation about reviewing and modernizing KEMA. If it were, the Attorney General would not have released his legal opinion in the middle of the night right before the last day of the legislative session, and the Legislature would not be trying to cram multiple pieces of legislation – many of which have not been thoroughly vetted by the public – into what is traditionally a ceremonial end of the legislative session.
Governor Kelly welcomes the conversation about KEMA, but in a thoughtful manner that allows stakeholders like local government officials and emergency managers to weigh in on this important subject. For her part, the Governor will bring the same bipartisan approach she has shown – which received praise yesterday from President Trump – to the conversation and to ultimately finding a non-political solution that works for all Kansans.”