The Kansas Governor is Shutting Things Down, Can She Do That?

On March 12, 2020, Governor Laura Kelly issued an Emergency Declaration for the state of Kansas to help manage the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak. Since then, the Governor has taken other steps, like order the closure of school buildings to help ease the outbreak. Other states have ordered restaurants, bars and theaters to close. The City of San Fransisco ordered its residents to "shelter in place" for the time being.

Naturally, a pandemic like COVID-19 causes confusion, largely brought on by rumors and lack of real-time information. Some of our business and individual clients have been calling or emailing with questions like:

"I heard a rumor that the Governor is going to shut down my restaurant. Can she do that?"

"My cousin works for the county health department. She said the State of Kansas is about to restrict travel in and out of Johnson County. Can they do that?"

"The Governor issued an executive order prohibiting all evictions and I have tenants I want to evict. Can she do that?"

The answer to each of these questions is: probably.

Kansas statute provides the Governor with the authority to declare a "state of disaster emergency," but not many people realize that this is, in fact, the Governor's job. The statute concerning emergency powers, which has been on the books for 45 years and last amended after 9/11, states the Governor "shall be responsible for meeting the dangers to the state and people presented by disasters." When the Governor declares an emergency, her powers are broad. I wont list all of her emergency powers, but notably her powers include:

  • Quarantine: the Governor can quarantine people, plants, agricultural commodities, food, or animals to prevent the spread of any contagious or infectious disease.
  • Evacuations: she can order can compel you to evacuate any area of the state that is stricken or threatened with a disaster. The Governor can close roads, prescribe routs, redirect traffic and freight in connection with any evacuation.
  • Housing: she can make housing temporary housing provisions for nearly any person or purpose.
  • Whole Government Response: the Governor can require the assistance of any state or local official, suspend regulations, or issue new regulations - with some limits.
  • Law Enforcement/National Guard Mobilization: The Governor can mobilize law enforcement and national guard service members for help. The Governor can also mobilize "non-militia" for help, too.
  • Other Functions: The statute also includes a catchall. The statute provides the Kansas Governor with the power to "perform and exercise such other functions, powers and duties as are necessary to promote and secure the safety and protection of the civil population."

The final "other functions" catchall could arguably apply to anything.

The next most common question is "how long can she do this?" The answer: it depends.

The Governor's declaration may not last longer than 15-days, unless the legislature ratifies the the state of emergency by concurrent resolution. The legislature will be in session when the current declaration expires, so I expect the legislature to authorize a longer declaration. But even the legislature were not in session, the Governor can make an application to a smaller committee and extend the emergency declaration by 30-days, and can repeatedly obtain 30-day extensions using the same process.

The takeaways are these: Businesses, take steps to prepare and be proactive. If you are an individual, follow the news, look into reports and updates on social media from state agencies.

But most of all, keep calm and wash your hands.

Tai J. Vokins is an attorney licensed to practice in state and federal courts in Kansas. Mr. Vokins has been recognized as a top rated consumer law attorney since 2012 and has prior experience as an Assistant Attorney General in the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Kansas Attorney General. If you have questions about consumer rights, call Tai at 785-842-6311.

The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. The law changes frequently and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Being general in nature, the information and materials provided may not apply to any specific factual and/or legal set of circumstances. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. Nothing on this blog is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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