Capitol Update: Sen. Thompson says state reopening plans are ‘too slow and too restrictive’ in early stages

In his Capitol Update column Sen. Mike Thompson says there are more than 272,000 newly unemployed Kansans and comments "we will not get a complete picture of the economic carnage for some time, and the recovery of the economy in Kansas will take well over a year."  File photo.

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Sen. Mike Thompson and Rep. Cindy Neighbor are scheduled to send updates this week. Rep. Neighbor did not submit a column.

Sen. Mike Thompson’s column is below.

Since my last column, much has changed, both in our state and in our nation. We have now entered period of re-opening, which is of great relief to Kansans, particularly those that operate businesses that had previously been declared non-essential.

With the federal, state, and county governments involved in the matter, it can be very confusing to follow. So, this weekend, I wrote a comprehensive newsletter entitled, “The Past, Present, and Future,” which outlines the details of how we got here, the new statewide disaster emergency, and the details of the governor’s plan for reopening Kansas, and what that means for Johnson County.

You can read by clicking here.

As you know, because counties can be more restrictive, Johnson County is in a stay-at-home order for another week due to a decision by Dr. Joe LeMaster, our local public health official. Staring on May 11th, the Board of County Commissioners decided we would align ourselves with the governor’s phasing, to avoid confusion. I think that was an appropriate move.

With those facts in mind, here is a summary of my viewpoints on the matter:

As I wrote in the newsletter, we all mourn the loss of every Kansan and every American that has died as a result of COVID-19. The disease is clearly quite contagious and there are certain populations who are particularly vulnerable. We’re all concerned about the outbreaks in nursing homes, and now there is increasing concern about the outbreaks in meatpacking plants. We all pray for effective treatments to come online as quickly as possible, up to, and including a vaccine. Doing what we could to “flatten the curve” and not overwhelm our hospitals was the right thing to do.

I have noted several times that the initial stay-at-home orders were understandable and appropriate, particularly in certain areas of the country. Unfortunately, in many areas of the country, we have seen officials take steps that are extreme and, in many cases, make no sense. This has created more fear and more uncertainty, rather than the measured response that would have been appropriate.

Back in March, I stressed on the Senate floor that our response must be measured. I likened it to my experience advising the public about how to respond to severe weather, and the importance of not producing alarm when the facts did not justify it. I also felt strongly that our leaders should be ready to adjust the orders as necessary, as soon as more data came in. When the time was right, I believe it is also important that the orders be lifted as quickly as they were imposed, in a responsible way. I believe Kansas is at that point in time.

Thankfully, some states have begun the process of reopening, and some quite boldly. For weeks, Kansas was without a plan to re-open, and that’s why last weekend I signed onto a letter with 86 legislators calling upon the governor to reopen Kansas, with specific recommendations on how to do so.

On Thursday evening, the governor outlined her plan. I am grateful that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. However, that light is still too dim and too far in the distance for me.  In short, I believe the phasing is too slow and too restrictive at the early stages. I do not believe it is appropriate to continue to impose restrictions on personal service, such as barbershops and hair salons. Restricting gyms and fitness centers from opening for at least another two weeks is not necessary.

For instance, the Johnson County task force had presented a plan that would have been less restrictive, and I would have preferred the governor allow local communities to open up more quickly, if they felt it was appropriate to do so. However, that is not possible under the governor’s plan.

The number of people in Kansas who are newly unemployed is now over 272,000. That number does not count the various self-employed individuals who are not eligible for benefits (some are, some are not), or the small businesses that may not reopen even when the governor’s orders are completely lifted. We will not get a complete picture of the economic carnage for some time, and the recovery of the economy in Kansas will take well over a year. For some, there will be no recovery.

As we go forward, I do believe reform is necessary. We must take steps to review each line of every statute that governs everything from the governor’s emergency powers to the independent authority granted to local health officials, so the buck stops with elected officials, so you can hold them accountable.

In closing, I understand there are a variety of viewpoints on this matter, and I respect all of them. I stand in awe of all who have stepped forward to help their communities during these difficult times, especially those on the front lines, such as health care workers. In that spirit, I echo the sentiment of former President George W. Bush, who in his video last night, who said, “We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”

I agree.

Thank you for taking time to read my column.