TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – Kansas legislative leaders are meeting on Wednesday to decide if lawmakers should return to Topeka to finish the 2020 session.
It has been estimated by state researchers that about 65.5% of Kansas lawmakers fall in an ‘at risk’ category when looking at the coronavirus impact. This could be due to age or underlying health conditions. This leaves legislative leadership with a tough decision — bring lawmakers back to Topeka and risk someone contracting or spreading the virus, or don’t return and leave work unfinished until next session.
The Kansas Legislative Research Department found other states that have alternative meeting and voting rules when in emergency circumstances. Arizona allows some House of Representatives members to vote in place of others. In Kentucky, representatives can tell the Speaker of the House their vote remotely, as long as their ID can be confirmed. In South Dakota lawmakers were split into small groups and put in separate rooms in order to properly social distance.
However, under the Kansas Constitution, lawmakers must meet in Topeka to discuss bills and must be in the House and Senate chambers in order to vote. It’s unclear if these rules can be changed to allow for safe voting.
“Vote according to the rules in the constitution, while also protecting the legislators and, probably more importantly, the entire communities that we are going to go back to after we have that meeting,” said Representative Brett Parker, D-Overland Park.
Some have suggested needing a constitutional amendment in order to make changes, but even this would require lawmakers to vote in person.
The Legislative Coordinating Council will meet at 3 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss and make a decision.