Legislative update from KMS Executive Director Rachelle Colombo
Just two weeks in to the 2021 legislative session and it is already unlike any before it. Within the first week, committees were meeting on priority issues, racing against what some have taken to calling the “COVID clock” — acknowledging the likelihood of legislators’ increased exposure to COVID-19 with each passing day under the dome. In addition to their constitutional duty to pass a budget funding state programs by the end of June, top legislative leaders identified two other priorities.
First, to extend the COVID-19-related provisions and processes outlined in the Kansas Emergency Management Act (KEMA) that were set to expire on January 26, 2021. Second, House and Senate Republican leaders agreed their chambers would focus on passing a constitutional amendment allowing voters to respond to the recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion. If passed by the voters in August of 2022, the amendment will restore the ability of the legislature to regulate abortion procedures.
Because a constitutional amendment resolution requires a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers to be placed on the ballot, House and Senate leaders were intent on passing the resolution with their supermajority caucuses before their numbers could be diminished by the possibility of COVID-19 exposures and the resulting quarantine necessary. In what is likely to be the defining factor of the 2021 session and its ongoing pace and focus, the House passed both the KEMA extension amendments and the constitutional amendment on abortion with a veto-proof majority within the first two weeks of the legislative session. The Senate also passed the KEMA extension and it now goes to the governor ahead of the January 26 expiration date. The upper chamber will consider the constitutional amendment on Monday. When the Senate passes this measure, as it is likely to, both bodies will have achieved two of their early priorities and the momentum to pass other measures is likely to be very different.
Though there are many issues that were not resolved by the abruptly ended session of 2020 and the work of passing a budget remains, these measures can be accomplished over a longer period of time and without the necessity of veto-proof majorities.
The legislature will now turn its attention to other issues with about a month for bills to be introduced and to advance through one house. Bills addressing occupational licensure, expanded scope of practice for APRNs and Pharmacists, Medicaid Expansion and medical marijuana are all likely to emerge in the coming weeks. You can follow these and other legislative issues through our bill tracker.
Finally, the legislature has also held public hearings regarding COVID-19 vaccine distribution and testing in an effort to assist in providing information to the public, as well as improving the state’s response to the pandemic. While Kansas has announced it is now entering Phase 2 of vaccine distribution, there remain several areas of the state in which all those eligible during Phase 1 (including physicians and their clinical staff) have been unable to access the vaccine or get reliable information about when and where it will be available in their area. KDHE’s plan relies heavily on using hospitals and county health departments as the primary vaccination sites in most communities. The state insists that it is distributing vaccines as quickly as they are received through the federal allocation process, and encourages physicians to work with your county health department or local hospital to schedule vaccinations, until the supply begins to catch up with demand. KMS has continued to reach out to the governor’s office and to KDHE to express the frustration of physicians who have not yet been able to access the vaccine for their practices and patients. As with PPE, we know that much of this will resolve when there is more supply available. But until then, we are communicating the urgent need to provide vaccine for physicians and their staff without further delay.
As always, please continue to send your questions or concerns to me or any member of the KMS staff.
Kansas vaccine locator tool
KDHE plans to soon introduce a new ‘Find my Vaccine’ mapping tool at www.kansasvaccine.gov, which will enable Kansans to search for providers near them, see which providers have been allocated doses in the past week, and access provider contact information. KDHE hopes that all enrolled providers who intend to vaccinate the general public will opt in to this tool. The map itself will clearly indicate which providers have been allocated vaccine within the past week to minimize an overload of outreach from the public if a provider does not have inventory on hand.
Vaccine providers may opt in to the tool by completing the following survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/R9MPD6V
Provider locations will have color-coding to indicate whether the provider has been allocated doses in the past week. This will not indicate actual inventory on hand, but will steer Kansans to only those providers who may have vaccine.
Kansas moves to Phase 2 of the Kansas COVID-19 vaccination plan
This week, Gov. Kelly announced that Kansas is beginning to move into Phase 2 of its vaccination plan. With this move, all those ages 65 and older, those in eligible congregate settings, and all high-contact critical workers will now be included in the prioritization list for vaccination. Anyone from Phase 1—including physicians and clinic staff members—who has not yet been vaccinated still remains at the top of the priority list for receiving the vaccine. For more details, see the governor’s announcement.
Also, a Kansas Vaccine Distribution Provider Manual has been released, intended to guide local decisions in allocating vaccinations. Counties are to determine how their supply of doses will be allocated by population groups in Phase 2.The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) also launched a tool that summarizes current vaccine allocation.
Biden administration issues steps to address COVID-19
This week, President Biden issued several executive orders aimed at addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, including issuing a mask challenge, re-engaging with the World Health Organization, and coordinating a unified national response.
The president’s “100 Days Masking Challenge” encourages Americans to wear masks and requires masks and physical distancing on all federal property and by federal employees and contractors.
In addition, President Biden will create a national COVID-19 Response Coordinator position responsible for coordinating all elements of the COVID-19 response across government, including managing efforts to produce, supply, and distribute personal protective equipment, vaccines, and tests.
Finally, the Biden administration issued a 200-page national strategy document for responding to COVID-19.
KMS Annual Meeting
While we are postponing Advocacy Day, the KMS Annual Meeting portion of the event, somewhat different than in the past, is still scheduled to take place as planned, but via Zoom. For this year, the principal purpose for the meeting is to select officers presented by the KMS nominating committee, as indicated below. Register for the KMS Annual Meeting here to receive log-in information.The KMS Nominating Committee has presented the following slate of candidates for the KMS trustee and officer positions, for the election to be held on Wednesday, January 27, 2021 at the KMS annual meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Central District Trustee II — G. Aron Fast, MD, Family Medicine-Moundridge
Eastern District Trustee II — Douglas S. Gleason, MD, OBGYN-Topeka
Western District Trustee II — Kelly B. Gabel, DO, General Surgery-Colby
AMA Delegate — Robert C. Gibbs, MD, Radiology-Parsons
Secretary/Treasurer — Nicholas M. Brown, MD, General Surgery-Wichita
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