By JOHN HANNA – AP Political Writer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas is set to provide $50 million in relief to businesses such as bars, gyms and hair salons that have been forced by state or local authorities to close or restrict operations during the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Republican-controlled Legislature on Monday approved a bill establishing the new agenda, sending it to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on the scheduled last day of lawmakers’ session this year. The measure is aimed at small businesses and would allow them to receive up to $5,000 for 2020 and 2021 if state and local authorities impose COVID-19 restrictions, although many were lifted in the summer of 2020.
The proposal had strong bipartisan support, clearing the Senate, 35-0, and the House, 120-1, but the short debates included some bitter notes. A key Republican senator has criticized Kelly for actions she took two years ago to control the spread of COVID-19, and the top House Democrat has argued that lawmakers should do more for the families of working class.
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Republicans have been pushing for a relief package since early 2021, in part in response to a still pending lawsuit in Sedgwick County filed in December 2020 by a Wichita fitness studio and its owner. Last year, Kelly vetoed a measure setting aside hundreds of millions of federal coronavirus relief dollars for businesses, saying it was “well-intentioned” but likely violated federal law. . The new, smaller program would also be funded with federal funds.
“It was more aimed at your hairdressers, your bookstores, the closed people who are on the main street of small town Kansas, even family operations in large urban areas,” said the chairman of the Senate tax committee. Caryn Tyson, a Republican from Parker.
Also on Monday, Republicans overruled two of Kelly’s vetoes. One was a measure that will require the Legislature to approve settlements for lawsuits against state agencies over election laws. The other was a bill that will prevent Kelly from entering into new contracts this year with private companies running the state’s Medicaid program.
During the short Senate debate on business aid, Tyson angered Democrats by suggesting Kelly will try to claim undeserved credit. She blamed Kelly for the need to provide relief because Kelly ordered many businesses closed for five weeks in the spring of 2020, with some state restrictions remaining in place for a few more weeks.
Democratic Sen. David Haley of Kansas City said Kelly’s actions were cautious in the weeks following the first reported COVID-19 cases and deaths in Kansas.
And voting after Tyson, Democratic Senator Mary Ware, of Wichita, said: ‘Even though I think ‘yes’ is the appropriate vote for me on this, the rant from the senator who spoke before me almost made me reconsider. ”
In the House, Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, another Wichita Democrat, lamented that a new law phasing out the state’s 6.5% sales tax on groceries over three years n did not eliminate the entire tax on July 1, as Kelly proposed. He also suggested that due to high inflation, lawmakers should consider suspending the state gasoline tax.
“We have a lot of citizens who are hurting right now,” Sawyer said.
The relief for businesses would offset up to 33% of rent or local property taxes they still had to pay despite COVID-19 restrictions reducing their sales, with a cap of $5,000 per year. Some businesses that have been able to stay open, such as grocery stores, hardware stores and liquor stores, would not be eligible. Businesses should file relief requests by April 15, 2023 with the State Department of Revenue.
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