Capitol Update: Sen. Thompson worries about economic fallout from pandemic

"In my opinion, the response to this situation should be measured and incremental and should take into account the economic consequences, while always ensuring we are not running afoul of our constitutional rights," Sen. Mike Thompson said.

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Jan Kessinger, Rep. Tom Cox and Sen. Mike Thompson are scheduled to send updates this week. Sen. Thompson’s column is below.

As you might imagine, I have received a lot of messages over the past week from constituents who are concerned and upset over the rapid “shut-down” of our county, and of the state of Kansas as a result of the coronavirus.

One business owner who contacted me was distraught over the fact that he was going to have to lay off workers. He did not want to have to do it…but was going to be forced into doing so to save his business because this “shut-down” will make it impossible for him to meet payroll. It was heartbreaking, and unfortunately, not an isolated event.

As of last week, over 60,000 Kansans that have been laid off, and that number will grow exponentially over the next few weeks. This is worrisome as the economic impact will ripple through the state and touch each and every one of us in some way.

Something I said on the Senate floor last week was taken out of context. Here is how it was reported: “Thompson said the state should be cautious in taking steps to combat the spread of the virus because “It may not be nearly as a bad as we think.”

Let me clarify my thoughts on the situation so that you understand the point I was trying to get across:

I am concerned about the effects of the virus, and believe it must be taken seriously. The numbers are self-evident, and I share the concerns about the lack of testing and the potential impact on our hospital capacity. Those are real. We must remain vigilant in looking for ways to mitigate the virus, and I support efforts such as social distancing and other measures, without inflicting so much damage to our economy, society, and liberty. I have been expressing this concern since before this latest decision by our county health officials.

In my opinion, the response to this situation should be measured and incremental and should take into account the economic consequences, while always ensuring we are not running afoul of our constitutional rights. I argued that exact thing on the Senate floor this past week, when we were trying to pass a resolution to check the powers of the Governor in these situations. While we want the governor to have the flexibility to respond, we must do so in a way that can ‘check’ her if she overreaches. I think we have done that in the resolution that passed.

The reason that was important is that I fear complete governmental control in the hands of a few people threatens the liberty we all hold dear. There are many examples of government over-reach in history, and they never end up with good results. And, today, I worry that too many people are willing to give up their liberties for a little safety…something Benjamin Franklin warned about at the founding.

As to what I believe would be appropriate, measured responses, I have a few thoughts:

First of all, I think that most people can make good decisions on their own if they are supplied with the facts. Authorities can make strong suggestions about who might consider limiting their public exposure, and ask others who may feel ill to self-quarantine. There are many ways to take a measured approach to dealing with this problem without limiting people from making a living and caring for their families. I give people the benefit of the doubt…instead of treating them as if they are incapable of making wise decisions. There are already so many unintended consequences from this “shut-down”. Take, for example, the panic buying at the grocery stores. While I’m pleased to see leaders urging people to not hoard shelves so the supply chain can catch up, this is concerning and a direct result of the situation we find ourselves in.

Second of all, I do think prudent and measured responses are appropriate. For instance, businesses should be allowed to operate, but while practicing social distancing and encouraging those who can work from home to do so. We can do that without shutting private businesses down. To this end, I believe that a 30-day period is much too long. If a complete public quarantine is necessary…do it for a week at a time…then re-evaluate before extending it. I worry that these prolonged shutdowns, particularly if they extend for months, will cause economic consequences that will be impossible for the government to remedy, no matter how many trillions of dollars they pump into the economy.

My concern is that this rapid escalation of the governmental response, coupled with non-stop media coverage, is ramping up the fear factor and emotional responses are replacing rational thinking. It is also very important for government officials to be specific in the orders they make, so confusion is minimized.

Any loss of life is tragic, and in this situation, unfortunately, it is unavoidable. What is avoidable, is the complete destruction of our economy. Let’s not make this crisis worse by compounding the effects of the virus with a new “great depression”…one that will threaten and take lives in a variety of other ways.

I am praying for all of you.