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TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed Tuesday a bill passed by the Kansas Legislature to snatch from the Kansas governor direct control of $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid and alter state law to weaken the executive branch’s emergency power during the pandemic.


Kelly, a Democrat working with a Republican-led House and Senate, said she would sign a revised, 15-day state of emergency declaration to provide legal footing for a streamlined set of executive orders issued in response to a pandemic that has killed 188 and infected 9,200 in Kansas.


Officials in each of the state’s 105 counties will be granted as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday the right to set health, business, mass gathering and other limits, the governor said. Her statewide plan to phase in reopening of the state will be mere guidance to counties, she said.


Kelly issued a proclamation to call the Legislature into special session June 3 to make sure state law allows disaster assistance continues flowing to cities and counties.


"What the Legislature sent to my desk does not protect Kansans," the governor said. "It does not help Kansans. It puts their lives at risk. I’m calling on the Legislature to come back and put a carefully crafted, bipartisan bill on my desk that will provide the resources Kansans need, in a timely manner. We must stop putting Kansans at risk."


Bill ’haphazard’


She said the decision to reject the bill wasn’t difficult because language redirecting authority of the legislative and executive branches of state governor and restricting county officials would have put lives at risk. She also said the "rushed, haphazard" bill may be constitutionally flawed because it was adopted after a midnight Thursday deadline acknowledged and ignored by legislators.


"I support certain elements of the bill," she said. "Unfortunately, I have concluded this legislation creates more problems than it solves. Allowing this bill, which legislators did not have time to read before voting, to become law would be irresponsible."


With the veto of House Bill 2054, Kelly’s maneuver could prompt legal challenges to her interpretation of executive authority.


The legislation was adopted by the House and Senate after a bizarre 24-hour session that started Thursday and ended Friday.


Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, expected the bill to be vetoed and had characterized that step as a "self-serving politically motivated injustice."


In a brief interview, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said it was a shame the governor would put the state on a risky path during a pandemic. Everything touched by the state’s executive-power dispute could get caught in the crossfire, he said.


"We’ll hope that nobody marches down to the courthouse and challenges any of this," said Schmidt, a Republican who had urged her to sign the bill.


Ozark parties


Kansas public health officials recommended Tuesday anyone who traveled to Lake of the Ozarks during the Memorial Day weekend and refused to follow social-distancing practices ought to voluntarily self-quarantine for 14 days.


Video images show large crowds of people at Lake of the Ozarks without face masks or attempting to stay six feet apart. Both are basic protective measures suggested by health officials against human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.


"The reckless behavior displayed during this weekend risks setting our community back substantially for the progress we’ve already made in slowing the spread of COVID-19," said Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.


"If you traveled to Lake of the Ozarks over the weekend, we urge you to act responsibly and self-quarantine to protect your neighbors, co-workers and family," he said.


Missouri has logged 11,752 infections and 676 deaths during the pandemic, while Kansas has confirmed 9,218 infections and 188 fatalities.


Not fake news


Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kan., said the coronavirus could spread quickly among people in swimming pools at Lake of the Ozarks. He theorized few of these social-distance violators are likely to quarantine.


"My first gut reaction in a word is just irresponsible," Hawkinson said. "We know COVID likes to find susceptible hosts. We know that it’s very easy to spread from one person to another."


Steve Stites, chief medical officer of KU Health System, said folks eager for fun in the sun at Lake of the Ozarks apparently grew weary of the heightened sense of risk to being out in public.


Too many people no longer view COVID-19 to be as medically toxic as it has been portrayed or feel they are invincible during the pandemic, he said.


"Unfortunately," Stites said, "this whole pandemic has become a little politicized. Some think it’s not true, it’s overblown. This is not fake news."