Following a pandemic shortened legislative session last year, state lawmakers returned to Topeka this week amid continued challenges, not the least of which is protocols
While the process of getting vaccines distributed has been slow, 66th District Representative Sydney Carlin (D-Manhattan) remains hopeful more can get the vaccine soon. She says having the vaccine would make her more comfortable, especially since there are a more than a dozen representatives in the House refusing to wear masks.
“I think that’s going to create a super-spreader event if we don’t get that stopped. The more of us that can get vaccinated and our staff (the better). We have five people out from the Revisor’s office right now with COVID. Our staff is being exposed,” she said.
A member of Gov. Laura Kelly’s communications staff tested positive for COVID-19 this week. The governor on Wednesday tested negative. She also received the coronavirus vaccine on Dec. 30.
67th District Representative Mike Dodson (R-Manhattan) says mask wearing and social distancing have been a small sacrifice to save those vulnerable in our communities as well as businesses. But he says it’s difficult to understand why the state has had such a lack of planning when it comes to vaccine distributions.
“We’ve known the vaccinations were coming for a long time and the very basics we need are the phases of the categories, how are people going to be notified and then where are the shots to be given? Those are very basic things that don’t rely on the timing of the release of the vaccine, and you can do that with a yellow pad of paper pretty fast,” he said.
Gov. Kelly said this week more than 84,000 Kansans have been vaccinated to date.
The two Manhattan lawmakers also weighed in on some of the things discussed in Gov. Kelly’s State of the State address from Tuesday. Among the hot button issues once again is Medicaid expansion and whether or not lawmakers in Topeka will even give it a debate on the House floor.
The governor is expected to urge the Republican-controlled legislature to move toward expansion, noting in her address this week that the pandemic has shown how vital it is to thousands of Kansas residents.
Rep. Carlin says she’s not sure how and if the issue actually gets a debate, but fears it may get tied into another issue conservatives are championing.
“Republicans are going to bring up the constitutional amendment on abortion again. If they have the votes to pass that, which I do not support. I will clearly say I do not support that for many reasons. If that passes, then they (Republican leadership) have said they would support Medicaid expansion, which is really really sad,” she said.
If adopted, Carlin, who is Catholic and pro-choice, says the proposed amendment would remove legal protections for women opting for an abortion, instead putting the decision in the hands of future legislatures.
“Every two years we could have a change. That would be completely ridiculous. People wouldn’t know what their rights are, people will die from having abortions that are not legal. We need to find another way to save babies,” she said.
Rep. Dodson, who supports Medicaid expansion, says at the very least, state lawmakers should debate the issue this session. Every state that borders Kansas has adopted some form of Medicaid expansion in recent years.
Dodson also agrees with Gov. Kelly’s commitment to close the so-called Bank of K-DOT by 2023, referring to previous administrations’ use of highway fund dollars as a slush fund for other economic endeavors or infrastructure ideas. He says it should be a priority and says any surplus in state revenues needs to be placed into reserves.
“If the future years show that we are actually achieving some pluses of revenue over expense, then that’s the time to talk about tax reductions, but for the near term I argue for some stability,” he said.
Dodson was also encouraged by Gov. Kelly’s anticipated announcement of a state economic development plan.
“Obviously progress is very hard to make, particularly on the state level for economic development if you don’t have a plan. I was told that it was already on the governor’s desk, but I’m on the commerce committee so I’m hopeful that we’ll see that pretty soon,” he said.
As for concerns with security at the statehouse, both Carlin and Dodson acknowledged there is some concern, but believe the state has taken appropriate measures to protect legislators from any planned demonstrations over the next week, leading up to the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden.
A rally was held in Topeka last week coinciding with the events that turned violent in Washington, D.C. Jan. 6. The rally in Topeka was peaceful and was nonviolent.