Representatives face new challenges to keep people safe while legislating

By State Rep. Blaine Finch
Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem

Greetings from a snowy statehouse this week. The legislature works in a two year cycle called a biennium. The first week of a new biennium always sees a flurry of new bills being filed and committees working to get organized with new members, new bills and new ideas.

This year in addition to the normal challenges we are dealing with the added requirement of trying to keep a large number of people in a single place safe during a pandemic. The House has worked with the health professionals at the KU Medical Center to reconfigure the House floor to allow people to socially distance, encouraged the use of masks, handwashing, sanitizer and in a first, made COVID testing widely available. It is different to see representatives seated in the gallery of the House chamber, and to not have the usual visitors to our beautiful capitol building. I look forward to the day when we see school buses back in the north drive and have a building full of people sharing their ideas to make our state better.

This week the Governor delivered her State of the State address. It was a first in that it was delivered somewhere other than the House Chamber. I was dismayed to hear her say she wanted to try yet again to refinance the state’s pension system before the KPERS board has recommended doing so. This saves short term money but pushes debt out 25 years and burdens future generations for the costs of today. We can do better than that.

This week the Senate took up its version of the bill addressing the Kansas Emergency Management Act. You may remember that last year’s House Bill 2016 shared control between state and local authorities to craft targeted solutions to the pandemic instead of imposing a one size fits all solution. The bill also allowed for increased use of telehealth to provide remote health care; made necessary changes to our laws to increase the availability of federal unemployment assistance; and added checks and balances to our statues so no one person had the power to close businesses, schools, or restrict travel. Those provisions expire on January 26 and both the House and Senate are moving swiftly to pass a bill to renew those changes and protections while still allowing for a strong, flexible, and proper response to the pandemic.

I look forward to keeping you updated as the session goes along and wish you and your families good health. If you ever have a question or concern, please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] or at 785-291-3500.

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