Capitol Update: Rep. Parker urges legislators to pass ‘clean extension’ of COVID-19 emergency declaration

Brett Parker

Rep. Brett Parker, a Democratic representative from Overland Park, is joining American Atheists once he formally steps down from the legislature. Parker will be in charge of managing communications with state legislators nationwide in his role as state policy manager. 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. Brett Parker, Sen. Barbara Bollier and Rep. Brandon Woodard are scheduled to send updates this week. Rep. Parker’s column is below.

It is amazing how many times you can hear “this is not political” while working in politics. With the low approval ratings of legislatures in general, perhaps legislative leaders have decided that it is simply more popular to lie about their work than to change their ways.

This session we have heard from Speaker Ryckman and company that they were not playing politics when they rejected Governor Kelly’s attempt to reform the Departments of Children and Families and the Department of Aging and Disability. We were assured they weren’t playing politics when they rejected the creation of an independent Energy Office to help bring down utility rates for Kansans. When the House GOP tried to gut the bipartisan transportation plan without input from the stakeholders who carefully developed it, they once again denied the obvious political gamesmanship.

While disingenuous and galling, many of us have come to expect a basic level of duplicitousness from the Speaker during normal times. It’s factored into our expectations each January when we arrive in Topeka.  These, however, are not normal times.

On Thursday we will arrive back in Topeka for a single final day of the legislative session. If the Speaker and his allies are serious about not playing politics, the job is clear: provide a clean extension of the emergency declaration for Covid-19 until January 2021. This is how these things are handled when we put politics aside.

It is how the legislature has dealt with flooding emergencies for counties only a year ago. If the legislature takes this basic, prudent action then the efforts to combat the current public health crisis will be protected.

The phased reopening will continue as guided by public health and economic experts. Protections from evictions will remain active, expedited transportation of key supplies will continue, and orders allowing medical professionals to help to the full scope of their training will remain in effect. If the emergency declaration is not extended or it is bogged down with measures only designed to keep Senator Wagle’s name in the news, these critical efforts to protect Kansans’ health and economic well being may be lost.

If Speaker Ryckman decides that he would rather score political points with the most extreme end of his base, we can expect a fruitless fight with the executive branch and Kansans will pay the price. Urge your representative and Speaker Ryckman to actually put politics aside and provide a clean extension of the emergency declaration.

These are not normal times and Kansans are counting on us.