House passes emergency management bill, sets up debate with Senate

Coronavirus in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – After looking back on a year of coronavirus, Kansas lawmakers are deciding what emergencies should look like in the future.

On Thursday, the House passed a bill that would change the Kansas Emergency Management Act. This is after the Senate passed its version earlier this week.

The two bills are very different.

The Senate is more restrictive of the governor. It cuts half the time an original health disaster declaration can last to 15 days. The House’s version is 30 days.

It also limits the governor on what can be closed. It leaves decisions whether to keep schools and businesses open to local elected officials and school boards.

The House’s version doesn’t go as far.

“The House alternative is better, it is more narrow in its scope and it does not restrict the governor to the extent that the Senate bill does, however, there still needs to be changes made in the House bill,” said Wichita Representative John Carmichael. “The House bill does not allow the governor to take immediate action.”

Opponents of the House bill, like Carmichael, said parts of it are unnecessary. The House’s version puts legislative oversight in place, letting lawmakers approve or deny certain executive orders. The Senate’s version also has additional oversight, but would have lawmakers issuing decisions on all executive orders.

On Thursday, the majority of representatives voted to approve the House’s version.

“Takes steps toward protecting Kansans from unconstitutional, overbroad, overbearing, and unnecessary gubernatorial emergency action,” said Mulvane Representative Jesse Burris.

Some lawmakers criticized how the pandemic was handled at its start.

“Constitutional liberties must not be infringed upon ever again in the state of Kansas,” said Fort Scott Representative Trevor Jacobs.

Now three members from both the House and Senate will try to work out the differences, and there would be another vote by the March 31 deadline, when the current disaster declaration ends.

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