Mike Thompson's Legislative Report & Forecast
"In a time of domestic crisis, men of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics." 
~ John F. Kennedy

Dear Friends,

Since my last newsletter, our world has changed dramatically. This weekend, as my wife and I got back into town after a day trip to visit our kids and grandkids, I-435 was nearly desolate, save for the truckers out on the road trying desperately to bring supplies to empty shelves at grocery stores all across the county and the state, for that matter.

I have received a large number of e-mails from friends, family, fellow Kansans and my constituents, who are concerned about what is happening. I want you to know that I am reading them all, and responding as quickly as I can. Be assured that I appreciate your input. It helps to hear from you, as we consider ways to be helpful.

For right now, though, I want to thank all those truck drivers, delivery people, doctors, nurses, first responders, waste management people, mail carriers, and all others too numerous to mention, who will be working overtime to help keep a sliver of normalcy in our daily lives. None of us have experienced anything like this. In a matter of a few short weeks, our way of life has been altered as we all come together to take the necessary steps to stop the spread of COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus.

Both across America and here in Kansas, the steps taken have been swift and in some cases, severe. As you know, President Trump has declared a national emergency, and here in Kansas, Governor Kelly has declared a state of emergency. Our school buildings are shut down. Businesses are shuttered. States and communities across our country are taking steps to combat the spread of the virus, with the primary goal of "flattening the curve." Early this morning, an order took effect in the Kansas City area, which places new limits on non-essential activity.

And also just today, Governor Kelly issued an order limiting gatherings statewide to 10 people or less.

I have heard from many of you that are concerned and deeply worried, both about the pandemic itself and the consequences of the decisions being made. Some of these I will be addressing in this newsletter. I want to let you know... I hear you! I read every e-mail. Across our state and indeed, across our country, thousands upon thousands are losing their jobs and applying for unemployment benefits.

The stock market was reacting to the spread of Covid-19 before it was apparent that it had reached our shores. As a result, I personally know people who have already suffered significant economic loss and are in danger of losing their businesses and therefore their livelihoods. One small business in Shawnee was losing $800 a day; and that was well before this recent Johnson County order. 

The emerging challenges from the virus are, and will be significant. More than perhaps we have ever seen. While the recommendations, such as social distancing and staying at home to the best degree we can, have been prudent, and many actions of government justified, I do have concerns about the extended period of time that these orders will be in effect. 

This balance, between combating the virus and ensuring our economy does not collapse, is one that every elected and appointed official in the country must weigh. Every order that is issued, every law that is passed, must be carefully thought through as to the short and long term consequences. I will be addressing this delicate balance in this newsletter.

While there is much worry and fear, I have hope. On Sunday, as I watched the daily press conference by President Trump and his task force, I felt a sense that despite the significant divisions in our country, we are coming together as we always do. As President Kennedy said, these are the times when we must unite, regardless of party.

One example of this hope is the drugs on the horizon. Yesterday, former Governor Dr. Jeff Colyer co-wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled,"These Drugs Are Helping Our Coronavirus Patients," that discusses the hopeful prospects of two drugs to combat COVID-19. You can read it by clicking here .

While we may not agree on every measure taken, our goal is the same; to defeat the virus and then emerge from the crisis stronger than we have ever been.

In this newsletter, I will touch on the actions that the Kansas Legislature took in the last two weeks, as we quickly pivoted from traditional legislative business to actions directly related to the coronavirus. I will provide you with important resources you should be aware of regarding COVID-19 and government's response to it. I will also discuss the economic implications we face, and why we must be very careful about actions which cripple our economy.

And, as always, I will look ahead; which now more than ever, we must do with wisdom, taking careful account of each step we take. The people of Kansas are depending on us.

Mike Thompson
The Budget
Within the last two weeks, it became clear that the COVID-19 situation was going to significantly shorten the legislative session. While legislative leaders plan to resume the session in late April, there is certainly a significant chance that will be impossible. Therefore, it was critically important that we quickly pass a budget, which is our constitutional responsibility.

The budget currently includes basic appropriations for the remainder of fiscal year 2020 and the entirety of fiscal year 2021. If the legislature does return, we would pass an omnibus budget. The budget that was approved appropriated $50 million for fighting the coronavirus, plus another $15 million for emergency preparedness, and increases overall state spending by $1.2 billion, or about 6.4% compared to last year. However, the final budget does not include additional investments into the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) which was agreed to by the Senate, nor any funding for a pay raise for executive branch employees. 

Like all budgets, it had many good things in it. It does contain a significant amount of funding for the coronavirus. However, in my view, we should have curtailed the spending much more than we did, knowing the train that is coming down the tracks towards us. For that reason, I did not support the budget.

It did pass 28-10, with a number of fiscally conservative Senators expressing concerns. I voted No. You can read more about the budget by clicking here .
Transportation Plan
Aside from the budget, we only voted on one other item not directly related to the COVID-19 situation. The 10-year transportation plan, labeled as the "Eisenhower Transportation Plan", is contained within SB 173. The revised plan includes a mandate that all stalled T-Works projects must be completed before any new construction can begin in T-Works project districts, as well as a requirement for projects to be reviewed every two years instead of every ten years under the state’s previous transportation plan.

I encourage you to read the Supplemental Note of the final bill by clicking here .

While I have no objection to those provisions, the overall cost of the program concerned me greatly. The total cost over the life of the Eisenhower Legacy Plan will be $10 billion over a decade. I felt that one way to maintain control over the cost of the program would be for individual projects that exceed a certain price tag come before the legislature for approval. Plus, there is no way for us to know what roadway needs we will have in ten years, and to make appropriations for projects that far in advance is unwise. There were other provisions in the bill that I thought were problematic as well.

I strongly believe our roads are important and must be well-maintained, and we must continue to develop our transportation system. However, I did not feel comfortable voting to endorse that hefty price tag. So, after careful consideration, I voted No.
Emergency Powers
As mentioned at the outset of this newsletter, Governor Kelly declared a state of disaster emergency over a week ago. That disaster emergency invokes her powers under KSA 48-923 and KSA 48-925, the latter of which lists 11 specific powers the governor has under a state of disaster emergency. I encourage you to read it.

Under this power, the governor has issued a number of executive orders:

  1. Executive Order 20-03 declares a State of Disaster Emergency.
  2. Executive Order 20-04 intends to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by prohibiting mass gatherings, defines the term “mass gatherings” to 50 people or more and lists exclusions.
  3. Executive Order 20-05 directs and orders specified Kansas utility and internet providers to not disconnect services for non-payment and lists the types of services included.
  4. Executive Order 20-06 directs and orders all financial institutions to suspend initiating any mortgage foreclosures, evictions or judicial proceedings. This was replaced by Executive Order No 20-10.
  5. Executive Order 20-07 closes all K-12 public and private schools until May 29, 2020, lists exceptions and details suggestions for continuing meal programs, childcare and online learning opportunities.
  6. Executive Order 20-08 temporarily expanding telemedicine and addressing certain licensing requirements to combat the effects of COVID-19. 
  7. Executive Order No. 20-09 provides conditional and temporary relief from certain motor carrier rules and regulations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  8. Executive Order No 20-10 temporarily prohibits certain foreclosures and evictions. The EO explicitly requires that a financial hardship indirectly or directly caused by COVID-19 be the reason a homeowner or renter can’t make payments. In addition, no landlords can evict a residential tenant when all defaults or violations of the rental agreement are caused by financial hardships due to COVID-19. This order replaces Executive Order 20-06.
  9. Executive Order No. 20-11 prevents all Kansas waste removal providers, trash and recycling, from cancelling or suspending commercial or residential waste or recycling removal services for Kansas residences and businesses as a result of nonpayment due to significant loss of income or increase in expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  10. Executive Order No. 20-12 extends deadlines for driver’s licenses and vehicle registration renewals and regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. All driver’s license renewals and vehicle registrations extended by this Executive Order must be completed within 60 days of the expiration of Executive Order #20-12. 
  11. Executive Order No. 20-13 extends tax filing deadlines to July 15, 2020, and waiving any interest and penalties for returns and payments made on or before July 15, 2020. In the event the State of Disaster Emergency originally proclaimed on March 12, 2020, is lifted or expires prior to July 15, 2020, the Department of Revenue shall continue to exercise appropriate discretion to make effective the waivers of penalties and interest for payments made up to July 15, 2020. 

In times of crisis, we all feel that our governor should have the flexibility to deal with the crisis at hand. However, it is also important to understand that these statutes were designed to be temporary in nature and thus must be extended by the legislature.

Originally, the House passed a version of HCR 5025 which extended those powers until next January. This is where the legislative process is so critical, because as legislators considered the implications of granting her such extensive powers for such a long period of time, a consensus developed that this was not a wise course of action.

Governor Kelly’s Emergency Declaration initially passed the Senate with an amendment by Senator Tyson (R-Parker) which limited the Governor’s powers during the term of the declaration. Senator Tyson’s amendment questioned the Governor’s need to have sole authority to utilize all state resources without oversight, her authority to severely limit the public’s right to bear arms and the ability to commandeer private property or restrict a person’s movement or the movement of animals. This amendment passed on a voice vote, and I voted Yes.

Another amendment offered by Senator Pyle (R-Hiawatha) essentially stated the Governor did not have the authority to suspend or limit the sale, dispensing, or transportation of alcoholic beverages, explosives and combustibles. I voted Yes on that amendment.

The Senate passed the amended version 37-2 and I voted Yes on the final bill. Because the resolution differed from the House resolution, it was sent to a conference committee for further negotiations. During the conference committee, some concern was expressed about the nature of the Tyson amendment and so the conference committee worked very hard to create an alternative scheme that retained the spirit of the Tyson amendment.

Ultimately, the conference committee retained Senator Pyle’s amendment, altered the amendment offered by Senator Tyson and significantly restricted the original resolution’s potential for broad executive overreach.  

Under the conference committee bill, HCR 5025 , the Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC); a seven-member council consisting of leaders from both parties and both chambers, shall review the disaster declaration every 30 days and have the power to approve an extension of the declaration in 30-day increments. It also says that if an order applies to the specific provisions of the Tyson amendment, it shall meet within three days.  

The LCC also now has the authority to review and revoke any order and proclamation by the Governor if such order or proclamation is seen to exceed the powers granted to the Governor under statute. 

The ultimate bill passed the House and Senate unanimously and is an example of why the legislative process is so important. If not for a handful of Senators speaking up, a very draconian bill could have passed.

A political side note:

During the initial debate on the Senate floor, my Democratic opponent was tweeting, critical of statements I made on the floor in support of the Tyson amendment, and critical of the steps we were taking to amend the bill so her authority was not unchecked. While I find it unfortunate my opponent would use this moment to make a political statement, I believe it noteworthy that she wanted to give the governor unchecked power until 2021. That would have been completely inappropriate.
Other Steps
The Kansas Legislature also took a number of other steps to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, each of these measures was brought to the floor by Senate leadership in a haphazard manner. Typically, we hold a caucus in which the bills are explained and there is an opportunity for questions. This would have taken 15 minutes. It is very important that all bills be explained so we know what we are voting on, otherwise you end up with flawed bills like the original bill regarding the governor's emergency powers. This is especially true when bills are being ushered through the process at a rapid rate. Pausing for a few moments to discuss what you're doing is very important.

Leadership skipped this important step and brought them to the floor and didn't explain the bills there either. As a result, you will see that in each of the votes below, a large number of Senators voted No or to Pass. This was because they did not feel comfortable voting on bills where the content was not known. This concern was raised on the floor at the time.

For a time, I joined with some of my colleagues in voting to Pass on all the bills. However, upon further reflection, I realized that I was not appointed to fulfill the remainder of this term to "Pass" on bills. Therefore, I decided not to do so unless there was a compelling conflict of interest. Instead, I voted No. Below I will explain each bill and what I would have done had the bills been explained more fully.

Unemployment Benefits Extension-SB 27
The economic consequences of the coronavirus are already being felt, with reports of widespread layoffs throughout the country, including here in Kansas.This bill extends unemployment benefits for Kansans hit hard by the sudden economic slowdown. These benefits are extended to 26 weeks and the waiting period of one week at the beginning of benefits has been removed.The extension sunsets on April 21, 2021.

If you have been impacted by a layoff or job loss you can apply for benefits at  https://www.dol.ks.gov/

This bill passed 31-3, with 5 "passing", for a total of 31-8. I voted No. Had the bill been fully explained prior to the vote, I would have voted Yes, as I fully support extending unemployment benefits in these times . I do have concerns that we did not tie the bill to the amount in the unemployment fund, and that's something that may have to be addressed later.

Judicial Timelines—SB 102
This bill authorizes the chief justice of the Supreme Court to extend or suspend court dates for pending cases, such as deadlines requiring a speedy trial. In conversations with others, there was some concern about granting the judicial branch that much authority, and it deserved more explanation in front of all Senators.

This bill passed 27-7 with five Senators voting to "pass", for a total of 27-12. While granting these delays would have been prudent for a short time, the provisions in the bill do not expire for an entire year. Therefore, I would have voted No regardless.

Education—SB 142
This bill authorizes school districts to receive full state funding despite not meeting legally required student attendance levels, and grants certain waivers to school districts in how to operate during the emergency. Governor Laura Kelly ordered all school building to be shuttered, bringing about the necessity of a bill. The bill also included a statement of legislative intent that school districts shall continue to pay hourly employees, including, but not limited to, paraprofessionals and custodial employees, during any school shutdown due to a disaster.

This bill passed 30-4 with five Senators passing, for a total of 30-9. I voted No. Again, when the vote was taken, the bill had not been explained; we were just asked to vote. This bill, in my view, needed further amendment.


My primary opponent has attacked me for voting no on these items. This is not a surprise, but unfortunate that he would use a time of crisis to play politics.

To be clear: I will never vote for legislation unless I am comfortable with the contents, and I particularly won't vote for a bill if we do not know what's in it, just because legislative leaders said it was okay. That's how we get bad legislation.
The Economic Impact
As the federal, state, and local governments take actions to stop the spread of COVID-19, many are increasingly concerned about the economic impact of the decisions being made that have the practical effect of essentially shutting down our economy.

Here in Kansas, tens of thousands of Kansans have already been laid off. The restaurant industry has been particularly hard hit. Some are estimating that nationwide unemployment could hit as high as 30%. Stories of economic harm, from both small and large businesses, are piling up throughout the country.

While we all hope for a quick bounce back, the economic devastation could be vast. This is why Congress is debating trillions in assistance, to both individual citizens as well as small businesses.

To be clear, some of the measures taken by government are prudent and must be taken. It is certainly prudent to strongly encourage social distancing and have as many work from home as possible, and to avoid large crowds. Few disagree with these recommendations as we try to flatten the curve.

These decisions alone will have an economic impact that we fear will be severe. 

However, we must be careful that as we try to flatten the curve, we do not also flatten the economy. Some of the concern lies in who is considered "essential" and who is not "essential", and whether the stay-at-home orders are properly crafted.

Sometimes, when we hear statistics about businesses and job losses, it's easy to forget that behind those statistics are thousands of individual stories of jobs lost.

Here are a few articles and video clips emphasizing this point, that I encourage you to read:

I will note that even Governor Cuomo of New York noted this morning that a prolonged shutdown of the economy is not sustainable.

In the meantime, a couple tips:

  • If you have a favorite restaurant that you frequent, order carry out! Also consider buying gift cards so they can have cash flow, and then use them later!
  • If you need snacks, stop by a local convenience store that isn't being visited right now due to people not buying gas.

Finally, like many of you, I am also concerned about the "panic buying" at our local grocery stores. I would encourage people to not engage in this, so the supply lines can catch up. This will ensure your neighbor can buy what they need.
COVID-19 Resources
Below are several links to information about the COVID-19 virus.

Photo Gallery
A bit of a positive moment! The Mill Valley High School football team came to visit the State Capitol to celebrate their 5A state championship! It was an honor to meet the coaches and players, and we recognize them on the Senate floor!
Forecasting the Future
The legislature voted to adjourn until April 27th, the traditional beginning of the veto session. However, there is a distinct possibility we will not come back due to the public health recommendations. I encourage legislative leaders to return only if these officials can give us the "all clear" and/or if we have some type of emergency measures to consider. By passing a budget, we do not need to return until January.
In closing, I want you to remain hopeful. Pray for your neighbor. Pray for our health officials as they make decisions regarding directions they are giving the public. We are in this together and we will get through this together.
See you soon,

Mike Thompson