TOPEKA, Kan. — Top Republicans on Tuesday ended Kansas' state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic, refusing to consider Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's arguments that it is still necessary for vaccinations and some testing for COVID-19.
Senate President Ty Masterson announced the cancellation of a meeting of eight legislative leaders set for Tuesday afternoon. A law enacted in late March required the legislative leaders to sign off on an extension, and Masterson's announcement means that the state of emergency would expire by day's end after being in place since March 2020.
"It is time for Kansas to return to normal," Masterson, an Andover Republican, said in a joint statement with two other GOP leaders, Senate Majority Leader Larry Alley, of Winfield, and Vice President Rick Wilborn, of McPherson.
Six of the eight legislative leaders who were to meet are Republicans, and the opposition of Masterson, Alley and Wilborn to an extension meant Kelly's request would have been rejected. House GOP leaders also had been opposed.
Kelly told reporters last week that she wants the state of emergency to continue at least through the end of August. She sent top lawmakers a letter Friday outlining a plan for winding down emergency operations and said she would let seven executive orders expire.
The governor told legislative leaders that she would keep only two executive orders in place. One mandated that state-licensed nursing homes test their residents and staff regularly for COVID-19, and another granting temporary permission for physicians' assistants, nurses, pharmacists and other medical personnel to give COVID-19 vaccinations. It wasn't immediately clear whether those orders could stay in effect absent a state of emergency.
Kelly had said extending the state of emergency would help with mobile vaccine clinics, particularly for children aged 12 to 17, and with the distribution of personal protective equipment.
"Without a disaster declaration in place, these priorities and objectives cannot be effectively accomplished," her letter said.
Kelly wanted legislative leaders to approve a 30-day extension, through July 15, the maximum allowed at one time by law. Top lawmakers refused late last month to give Kelly the maximum extension and Republicans signaled that they did not plan to grant another one.
The three top GOP senators said any remaining response to COVID-19 "should take place under our normal procedures."
House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said Monday that Kelly has had weeks to figure out how to manage the distribution of vaccines and protective equipment and to continue testing at nursing homes. He said with new cases having dropped, the state no longer faces an emergency, and its residents are ready to move on.
"Quite frankly, I think she would keep asking for extensions is she could get them," Hawkins. "I don't think she ever wants to - it doesn't seem like, ever wants to - shut this thing down, so it's going to take us to do it."
COVID-19 immunizations have declined since early April, from a peak average of 29,380 shots a day for the first seven days of that month, to 5,523 for the seven days ending Monday, according to state Department of Health and Environment data.
The department said 43.3% of the state's 2.9 million residents or about 1.26 million people had received at least one of two vaccine shots as of Monday. The state still had nearly 584,000 unused vaccine doses after asking for only 10.2% of its federal allocation last week.