If the past week of action to battle the novel coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that circumstances change quickly. Actions that once seemed unthinkable — closing school buildings for the rest of the term, for instance — become yesterday’s news.
Kansas has been lucky during this outbreak to have Gov. Laura Kelly at the helm, because she has sensibly but flexibly led, taking aggressive action when the science warranted it.
And that’s why it was disappointing to watch the Kansas Senate recoil at her leadership and attempt to restrict her emergency powers. As of Thursday, the Senate and House compromised on a bill that would allow for legislative oversight of those powers and require monthly extensions of her emergency declarations. While the compromise is better than the original Senate measure (which would have prevented her from limiting movement, a possibly critical action in battling the virus), it’s still an unnecessary distraction.
Look, we get it. Kelly is a Democrat and many Republicans in the Legislature are reluctant to give her any credit or power whatsoever. But they’re heading home now, having passed a bare-bones budget. She remains governor and continues to navigate our state through turbulent waters.
Kelly needs the full powers of her office.
What was most disturbing, perhaps, was watching select Republicans downplay the threat of the virus on and off the floor. We get it. Understanding the peril posed by COVID-19 is an uncomfortable exercise.
But we’re all in uncharted waters, here. This is no hoax. A serious pathogen is spreading around the world, and until we are able to fend it off with a vaccine, medical treatment or hard-won herd immunity, we need to take all the precautions we can.
Think of it this way. We don’t believe our homes are going to burn down in a fire. But we’ve seen it happen to other houses, so we’re cautious. We buy smoke detectors. We pay for fire departments. We understand that protecting ourselves means taking individual and collective action, and empowering the state to protect the general welfare.
In the case of this virus, the Senate was actively trying to keep the governor from putting in a smoke alarm. They were trying to tell her we don’t need fire trucks.
No town of any size would dream of going without a fire department. Likewise, the Kansas governor has emergency powers for a reason. She should be able to protect the people of this state without needless red tape.