Kansas' Dem governor vetoes GOP bill to limit her coronavirus emergency powers

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Kansas' Democratic governor on Tuesday vetoed a Republican bill aimed at limiting her emergency response powers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Laura Kelly promised to issue a new emergency declaration to replace the one set to expire this week. The move has been bitterly opposed by Republican lawmakers who argue she lacks the legal authority to extend her emergency powers.

Kelly has also worsened the partisan divide by calling the state legislature back into special session on June 3 to tackle coronavirus measures.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions about the coronavirus during a news conference, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. 

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions about the coronavirus during a news conference, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan.  (AP)

Republicans believe Kelly has moved too slowly to reopen the state's economy and has too aggressively imposed restrictions. She imposed a statewide stay-at-home order from March 30 until May 4 and plans to lift restrictions on businesses in phases through June 23.

The GOP bill Kelly vetoed was meant to protect businesses and health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits and take control of the state's pandemic response from the governor, including decisions about how to spend $1.25 billion in federal relief funds.

The bill would have extended the state of emergency through May 31, then required Kelly to seek permission from the legislature to extend it.

If the state of emergency had ended, some 30 orders that Kelly issued would expire, including those banning evictions for people who can't pay their rent during the pandemic and prohibiting utility cutoffs.

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The bill approved Friday required Kelly to get permission from legislative leaders to keep businesses closed for more than 15 days or to exercise other broad powers granted to governors during emergencies after May 31.

Democrats had objected to curbing Kelly's power and shielding substandard nursing homes and manufacturers of defective personal protective equipment from liability.

Because legislators adjourned for the year, they cannot override a Kelly veto. Republicans had hoped that passing a bill would box Kelly in because her existing state of emergency was set to expire Tuesday.

The lawmakers' last day in session lasted 24 hours straight. Kelly has called it the "most embarrassing, irresponsible display of government that we have witnessed throughout this ordeal."

"The process was messy, confusing and complicated but it didn't have to be," Kelly said during a news conference Tuesday.

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Kelly is among fellow Democrat governors in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin whom Republicans have criticized for their handling of the pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.