Kansas governor's team to discuss coronavirus relief funds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday that a team she appointed to help her plan for the state's economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will begin discussing this week how to spend $1.25 billion in federal relief funds.

The Democratic governor also said she is confident that she can work out an agreement with the Republican-controlled Legislature to give them some oversight over how the funds are spent.

Kelly said the money has to be distributed by the end of the year, and she expects the first round of spending to include payments to cities and counties to cover their coronavirus-related costs. A five-member executive committee of Kelly's 20-member planning team plans to have its first meeting Tuesday.

“There was a real desire on the part some in the Legislature to have some control,” Kelly said during a Statehouse news conference. “I think we can come up with something that they feel comfortable that they've got the kind oversight they ought to have and want without giving up the nimbleness that we need to get that money out.”

Kelly vetoed a sweeping coronavirus bill passed by GOP legislators in the final moments of their annual session, and the measure would have curbed her power to direct the state’s pandemic response. It included provisions that would have given the Legislature's top seven leaders the final say in how the federal coronavirus relief funds would be spent.

Kelly said there's not enough time for “having committee meetings, debating, everything else.”

The governor called legislators back into a special session starting Wednesday to extend a state of emergency that’s due to expire June 10.

After the governor vetoed the GOP coronavirus bill, she lifted the state’s remaining restrictions on businesses last week, leaving it to officials in each of the state’s 105 counties to determine what rules remain in place. She had planned to keep some statewide restrictions in place until June 23 but backed off after weeks of pressure from the Legislature to move more quickly to reopen the economy.

Kansas has continued to see coronavirus cases and COVID-19-related deaths increase. The state Department of Health and Environment reported Monday that the number of cases had reached 10,011, up 292 or 3% since Friday, and the number of deaths jumped 4.5%, up 9 to a total of 217 since the pandemic hit the state in early March.

Meanwhile, two female students are suing the University of Kansas for refunds they believe they should have received after classes were moved online and activities were canceled because of the pandemic.

Universities across the country are facing similar lawsuits after they sent students home in March.

The lawsuit was filed May 18 by two students from Johnson County, who are not named. They contend the university is keeping money students should have received — by refusing to refund the cost of campus fees for the time after students left campus and by issuing credits for on-campus dining packages instead of refunds, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.

The lawsuit leaves open the possibility of become a class-action for all 26,000 university students but it’s unclear if other plaintiffs have signed on to the case.

Kansas spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said the university was aware of the lawsuit but would refrain from commenting “until the appropriate time.”

The university has provided refunds in several areas, such as parking, housing and dining, Barcomb-Peterson said.

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