Staying at home and limiting contact with others as much as possible is by far the most effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19, so it is important that we all respect the (stay-at-home) order.
The coronavirus not only is highly contagious and can be fatal, but it also is sneaky — it can be spread by people who don’t know they are infected and have no symptoms. No one is immune.
You probably have seen this two-curve graph multiple times since COVID-19 began sweeping our planet mere weeks ago. It starkly compares what will happen to our health care system, and to the lives of our loved ones and neighbors, based on how we all do — or do not — take action to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
In my view, this is a graph that shows opportunity , not gloom and doom. It shows that, if we take protective measures — if we stay home, frequently wash our hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds and cover our mouths when we sneeze or cough — we can help ensure that the disease spreads more slowly and maybe even spreads to fewer people. As a result, our health care system won’t be nearly as overwhelmed, and will be much more likely to be able to care for people who do become ill.
Seizing that opportunity is a must. We can do it! But staying at home means many of our neighbors will take a financial gut punch as they are laid off or lose their jobs. The economies of our communities, our state and our nation are taking a hit.
So, in conjunction with steps at the federal level, your Kansas state government continues to take action to “flatten” those effects, too. I voted in favor of the following actions, which the legislature took during the past (two) weeks alone.
Ratifying Emergency Powers
HCR 5025, which passed 115-0, ratifies the declaration of emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic. It is a key part of ensuring that federal funds can flow into our state, businesses can access insurance policies that require a declaration and state resources can be quickly and efficiently used to help those who need it most.
This is a time for collaboration and cooperation, not partisanship. This bill will help us meet the challenges facing our people and our economy with swift action and collaboration between many different agencies and all branches of government.
Extending Unemployment Benefits
SB 27, which passed 119-0, extends unemployment benefits for Kansans to 26 weeks and eliminates the one-week waiting period before benefits begin. With small businesses and large industries across the state feeling the pinch of reduced customer traffic and demand, the increased benefits will help citizens weather the storm and get back on their feet more quickly when the outbreak has passed. If you have lost your job or been laid off, you can apply for benefits at www.dol.ks.gov.
Extended unemployment benefits add a layer of protection to what is coming from the federal government — an aid package reportedly in the range of $2 trillion that not only should help keep business and industry afloat, but also will put money directly into people’s pockets.
SB 142, which passed 117-2, gives education professionals the latitude to decide how best to deliver instruction and how best to help students complete this school year. Our young people now must finish their 2019-2020 studies outside of regular classrooms. Online classes and/or other teaching methods in areas where internet service isn’t readily available — and that still avoid gatherings of 10 or more people — will become the “new normal” for now. This bill allows administrators and state education professionals to make local-level decisions to ensure students continue their academic progress.
Even before we passed the bill, teachers were well on the way to reinventing educational delivery, and the people who operate school foodservice operations already were figuring out how to continue to feed children, especially those who get their only nutritious meals — sometimes their only meals — at school.
Let’s not forget our higher education institutions, Emporia State University and Flint Hills Technical College. They are also developing online curriculum for their students. Online classes are not new, but to implement it on such a broad scale is a challenge. We owe all our amazing educators and school staff members a debt of thanks.
Passing a State Budget
Passing a budget to fund state government operations is the one job the legislature is required to complete, and it was made all the more important by the COVID-19 pandemic.
SB 66, which passed 99-16, includes $65 million for coronavirus response and emergency disaster measures. It also preserves a responsible ending cash balance to make sure Kansas is better able to withstand the current economic downturn.
Extending Judicial Timelines
SB 102, which passed 113-5, extends judicial deadlines. Those deadlines dictate how quickly a trial or other judicial action must take place before a case must be dismissed and defendants are declared free to go without penalty.
Because of the public health crisis, juries can’t be seated in many areas of our state because enough potential jurors can’t be brought into one room. Some courthouses have been forced to close completely. Extending the deadlines means that accused people and injured parties still can have their day in court, and that justice is fairly and equally applied.
In addition to those actions, House Republicans also have created a new website, www.kansastogether.com/business, which consolidates links to resources that could be useful as we weather the health crisis.
Additional Executive Orders
In my March 18 newsletter, I mentioned several executive orders that Gov. Kelly issued in direct response to the pandemic. Since then, she has issued additional orders, which:
• Temporarily ban gatherings of 10 or more people. That’s a change from the original executive order banning gatherings of 50 or more.
• Temporarily require continuation of waste removal and recycling services.
• Temporarily expand telemedicine and address physician licensing requirements. This allows doctors licensed in other states to provide Kansans with advice and care online, and to assist in Kansas health care facilities.
• Provide conditional and temporary relief from certain motor carrier rules and regulations, thus helping to keep goods moving throughout the state.
• Extend vehicle registration renewal deadlines for state-based passenger vehicles, motorcycles, truck and trailers; extend truck, truck tractor and trailer registration renewal deadlines; extend the term of temporary license tag permits for recently purchased vehicles; and extend the term of driver licenses and state ID cards for residents whose identification expired beginning March 12 but can’t renew because of COVID-19 closures.
• Defer certain tax deadlines and payments during the pandemic.
You can read all of Gov. Kelly’s recent executive orders at governor.kansas.gov/newsroom/executive-orders.
As always, feel free to contact me with questions.
Meeting the challenge and accepting our responsibility to each other
Today, we find ourselves feeling isolated and yet also deeply connected to one another by a health threat that scientists are racing to understand. It is at times like these, when we all are facing daily challenges that are new to us, that I feel an even greater sense of responsibility to provide you with trusted information that can help encourage calm, comfort and courage. You’ll continue to hear from me regularly.
I want to hear from you, too. I welcome your thoughts, your feedback, even your worries. And I would be delighted to hear about acts of kindness and service — large or small — that are shining the beacons of hope and human kindness in your neighborhoods and beyond. With your approval, I may share a few of them in future newsletters.
In that spirit, health care workers not only deserve our thanks and respect, they need our help. In particular, Newman Regional Health needs masks.
As many have noted during the past weeks, our state motto — ad astra per aspera, or to the stars through difficulties — has never been more apt. But together, we can flatten the curve! Let’s stay home, wash our hands and cover our coughs. And as I said last week, COVID-19 is contagious. But so are generosity, patience and kindness. Let’s catch those.