Capitol Update: Sen. Dinah Sykes characterizes 2021 session as ‘only mildly damaging’

Sen. Dinah Sykes says she was "struck by how much worse things could have been" this legislative session.

Each week, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol.

Below is the submission from Democratic State Sen. Dinah Sykes of Senate District 21.

Now that the dust has settled on this year’s legislative session, I am struck by how much worse things could have been (and I fear, will come to be).

We passed some truly horrible pieces of legislation – the constitutional amendment that paves the way to total abortion bans, the tax cut for giant multinational corporations, and the laws that will disenfranchise countless Kansas voters all come to mind – but Democrats in the Senate and House were able to stop some of the worst of the worst.

That the session was only mildly damaging is in large part due to the check provided by having Governor Kelly at the helm of the executive branch, where she has tried to curtail the Legislature’s worst instincts. More often than not, they had enough votes to pass their reckless agenda anyway.

With the legislative session over, there will be fewer opportunities for Republicans in the Legislature to actively undermine the governor. They will not be able to stop the record-breaking economic development efforts of her administration, or her continued advocacy for Kansas projects from federal agencies.

But on Tuesday, the Legislative Coordinating Council (of which I am a member) will meet to decide whether to extend the state’s emergency declaration, and with it, Governor Kelly’s recovery plan. Last month, Republican leadership begrudgingly extended it by 15 days, calling it an “exit strategy” without offering an actual strategy to ensure Kansas families and communities remain safe as we continue to address the health and economic consequences of this crisis.

Ahead of this meeting, Governor Kelly sent my colleagues on the LCC a letter detailing her plan – complete with a demobilization timeline that has our state positioned to end the emergency declaration at the end of August. I encourage you to read her letter and plan here. It is deliberative, sound, and offers clear objectives.

The fact of the matter is that our vaccination rates are not where they need to be in order to consider this pandemic over. Vaccinations of school-aged children dropped off significantly when the school year ended, and projections show that rates will increase with back-to-school efforts in the fall.

Many companies in our area developed their return-to-office plans based on vaccination rate, which is still too low among adults. The state has partnered with employers and local communities to provide mobile vaccination clinics to increase access to the workforce and underserved populations. These clinics are ongoing. Agencies, hospitals, and our local businesses need this continued support – along with a clear, planned ramp-down of efforts – in order to continue our recovery past an emergency declaration.

Governor Kelly’s plan is the exit strategy. Its smoothness relies on the resources our state can leverage through the emergency declaration. I’ll be supporting the declaration’s extension on Tuesday, and I hope that my colleagues on the LCC will join me in putting our kids and local businesses ahead of their fear of letting the governor get it right.