As the number of confirmed COVID-19 (Coronavirus) cases continued to rise and public access to the Capitol was limited, legislators focused on passing a basic budget bill for this fiscal year and next, and announced on Monday, March 16, a plan to adjourn the main session on Thursday, March 19, two weeks before the scheduled First Adjournment date of April 3. On March 18 there were 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state but just 11 days later there were 319 confirmed cases, including six deaths.
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On Tuesday, March 17, Gov. Kelly announced she was ordering school buildings to remain closed for onsite instruction for the rest of the school year under Executive Order (EO) No. 20-07. She also asked some executive branch employees to stay home on administrative leave for two weeks beginning on March 23.
Also on March 17, the Senate passed its budget bill. Later in the day a conference committee began negotiations on that bill and the House Appropriations Committee’s bill funding the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2020 and FY 2021. Legislators on both sides agreed that the goal was to approve a “basic” budget before an early First Adjournment and return after the break to work on an Omnibus appropriations bill. A floor amendment in the Senate earlier in the day to repurpose the $17 million in the proposed budget for Medicaid expansion to shorten the waiting list for intellectual and physical disabilities services for current Medicaid beneficiaries was defeated on a vote of 20-15.
Legislators also passed two bills related to COVID-19 which were signed by the Governor on March 19. Senate Bill (SB) 142 allows the State Department of Education to let public school districts end classroom instruction without losing their state funding for teaching less than the required number of hours this year and directs that all hourly paid employees of the districts be paid for the remainder of the school year. SB 27 lengthens the eligibility for unemployment insurance up to 26 weeks from the current 16.
On Wednesday, March 18, the House disapproved two of Gov. Kelly’s executive reorganization orders (ERO). ERO 44, which would have merged the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF), the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS), and juvenile corrections programs currently under the Department of Corrections into a single Department of Human Services was disapproved on a vote of 82-35 (House Resolution (HR) 6032). ERO 46, which would have turned the energy division of the Kansas Corporation Commission into a separate Kansas Energy Office, was disapproved on a vote of 74-44 (HR 6031). The House took no action on ERO 45, which would move the state employee health plan and workers compensation program from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to the Kansas Department of Administration, and it will presumably take effect.
Later in the evening House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on a budget bill, which included $50 million that the state budget director may use for agencies tasked with responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, KDHE announced that it was mandating a 14-day home quarantine for Kansans who have traveled to certain counties in Colorado a week prior to or after March 15; traveled to California, Florida, New York or Washington; traveled on a cruise ship or river cruise; traveled internationally on or after March 15; or who have been notified by public health officials that they have been in close contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
On Thursday, March 19, Gov. Kelly signed SB 102, which will allow the chief justice of the Supreme Court to extend or suspend some legal deadlines to protect court workers and others from exposure to COVID-19.
The Senate and House Conference Committee reports related to House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 5025 also were unanimously approved. HCR 5025 ratifies the March 12, 2020, State of Disaster Emergency declaration issued by Gov. Kelly and provides for continuation of the declaration through May 1, 2020, subject to additional extensions of time. The resolution also allows the State Finance Council, upon application by the Governor, to extend the state of disaster emergency by affirmative vote of a majority of the members for a specified period not to exceed 30 days and authorizes the LCC, when the Legislature is not in session, to review and revoke all orders and proclamations issued by the Governor following “consultation with the attorney general, adjutant general and any other parties the chairperson deems necessary, . . .”
The Senate adjourned around 5:00 but the House stayed a while longer to debate and vote on Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 1615, the adjournment resolution they were required to approve before leaving the Capitol. The resolution includes a provision that allows the Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC), “if it determines it is necessary to secure the health and safety of the public, legislative staff and legislators,” to reconvene the legislature before the April 27 scheduled date for the Veto Session or postpone reconvening to as late as May 21. Some legislators had expressed concern that allowing the LCC to postpone reconvening could cut short the time legislators will have to work on the Omnibus bill, pending legislation, and any additional actions needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic before Sine Die Adjournment on May 21.
On Friday, March 20, Commerce Secretary David Toland announced that the state had established a $5 million small loan program, known as the Hospitality Industry Relief Emergency Fund (HIRE), to assist restaurants, bars and other hospitality-related businesses in the state that are struggling financially as a result of COVID-19-related orders. HIRE will make interest-free loans of up to $20,000 for three years to help these businesses with commercial loan repayments, leases, payroll, utility bills and other business expenses. Gov. Kelly also stated that the state has applied for a U.S. Small Business Administration program that could provide loans of up to $2 million for small businesses needing assistance due to COVID-19.
On Monday, March 23, Gov. Kelly reported that county public health officials in Johnson, Leavenworth, Wyandotte, Douglas, Doniphan and Miami counties had issued stay-at-home orders. She also announced she was rescinding EO 20-04, prohibiting public or private gatherings of more than 50 people, and replacing it with EO 20-14, prohibiting public or private gatherings of 10 or more people effective March 25.
KDHE added the states of Illinois and New Jersey to its list of states with a mandatory 14-day home quarantine for Kansans who traveled there on or after March 23, and announced that due to “widescale shortages of laboratory supplies and reagents, testing for COVID-19 at the state lab was being prioritized for public health purposes and urgent need.” KDHE said it would be prioritizing specimens for testing based upon those individuals who meet the state’s “patient under investigation (PUI) criteria,” which includes health care workers and first responders who have COVID-19 symptoms, hospitalized patients with no alternative diagnosis, individuals over the age of 60 who have COVID-19 symptoms, or individuals with underlying health conditions that would be treated differently if they were infected with COVID-19.
On Tuesday, March 24, the LCC approved six COVID-19-related executive orders issued by the Governor to (1) temporarily expand telemedicine and address certain licensing requirements to combat the effects of COVID-19 (EO 20-08); (2) grant temporary relief from certain motor carrier rules and regulations to allow for increased and immediate transportation of essential supplies and equipment (EO 20-09); (3) temporarily prohibit certain foreclosures and evictions for homeowners and tenants who are in default due to “financial hardship resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic” (EO 20-10); (4) prohibit waste removal providers from canceling or suspending commercial or residential waste or recycling removal services for nonpayment by individuals or businesses due to significant loss of income or increased expenses resulting from the pandemic (EO 20-11); (5) extend vehicle registration renewal deadlines and the terms of drivers’ licenses and identification cards (EO 20-12); and (6) extend the filing deadline for 2019 calendar year tax returns from April 15 to July 15, 2020 (EO-20-13). Under the Governor’s order related to telemedicine, the State Board of Healing Arts enacted new temporary emergency regulations for providers serving COVID-19 patients, including waivers of regulations requiring in-person examinations of patients before issuing prescriptions and supervision of some physician assistants and other providers. KDHE also waived its requirement that applicants for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) federal nutrition assistance program appear in person and will allow authorized applicants to apply by telephone or computer.
Commerce Secretary David Toland also announced that all loan funds available through the HIRE Fund announced on March 20 had already been allocated due to an overwhelming response from hospitality businesses. He stated that a total of 344 businesses will receive interest-free loans for 36 months.
On Wednesday, March 25, Gov. Kelly signed SB 66, the budget bill making appropriations for FYs 2020, 2021 and 2022 for state agencies, including $65 million for the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on Wednesday that it had approved Section 1135 Medicaid waivers for seven additional states, including Kansas. The Kansas approved waiver allows the state to (1) waive certain provider screening requirements, postpone deadlines for revalidation of providers, allow out-of-state providers with equivalent licensing in another state, and permit out-of-state providers to provide care to the state’s enrollees; (2) suspend fee-for-service (FFS) prior authorizations and require FFS providers to extend pre-existing prior authorizations; (3) allow managed care enrollees to bypass health plan appeal and go directly to a fair hearing (related to eligibility decisions) and give enrollees more than 120 days for managed care organization appeals or more than 90 days for FFS appeals to request a state fair hearing; and (4) suspend long-term services and supports pre-admission screening and annual resident reviews for 30 days. The waiver is retroactively effective to March 1, 2020 and will end upon termination of the federal COVID-19 public health emergency. Additional details about the approved waiver can be reviewed online.
On Friday, March 27, the LCC approved EO 20-14 prohibiting public gatherings of 10 or more people, and EO 20-15, which supersedes and overrides the provisions of any county “stay home” order that fails to exempt certain essential functions, including companies that provide internet or wireless service, consumer and commercial banking and payment services, or that support community health and mental health services.
KDHE also added Louisiana and the entire state of Colorado to the list of states for its mandated 14-day home quarantine following travel there.
On Saturday, March 28, Gov. Kelly issued EO 20-16, effective March 30, 2020, directing all Kansans to stay in their homes or residences unless performing an essential activity, and making Kansas the 22nd state in the nation to institute a temporary, statewide “stay home” order. The EO supersedes all local “stay home” orders, but provides that local orders that expire after the date of EO 20-16 may resume in force and effect after it expires on April 19, 2020. She stated that the order comes with no direct state enforcement but that local law enforcement should encourage Kansans to comply with the order except for specific exemptions.
On Sunday, March 29, the LCC met to review EO 20-16 and adjourned without taking any action. President Trump also announced on Sunday that he was extending the federal social distancing guidelines to April 30, 2020. As originally announced on March 16, the administration recommended that all Americans work and engage in schooling from home, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel and avoid eating and drinking in bars, restaurants and public food courts. As of Sunday evening, the U.S. has more than 142,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,479 deaths.