In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Caryn Tyson, 12th District, emerged as a leading GOP voice championing efforts to limit the governor’s emergency powers.
Though some question the timing as partisan — Gov. Laura Kelly is a Democrat, while the powers of previous Republican governors weren’t challenged — Tyson said the central issue comes down to checks and balances.
This time, Tyson said, the governor was shutting down businesses and the economy while the Legislature was not in session and had no ability to intervene.
“The parameters need to be based on the emergency we’re facing,” she said. “If you have an emergency like a tornado or flood, those parameters wouldn’t be the same as COVID.”
In the end, the governor and lawmakers compromised, allowing counties to have local control and a group of legislators to decide whether to extend or revoke emergency declarations.
Tyson said she hopes legislators will further review the issue in the next session.
“I think we need to do a deep dive on the current legislation,” she said.
Tyson, who has a decade of experience in the Legislature both as a House representative and a senator, is running for re-election to represent the 12th District. She was elected to the House in 2010, then to the Senate in 2012 and 2016.
She’s a former software engineer and operates Tyson Ranch in Parker with her husband.
Information technology is central to much of her campaign.
“There were many people in the Legislature who didn’t understand the important role of technology. I still see that today but I think more people are starting to understand how important it is,” she said.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted that need even more, she said.
Take, for example, the delays in the unemployment system. Many of those who lost their jobs said it took weeks or even months before they were issued unemployment payments.
That’s mostly attributed to outdated computer systems in the Department of Labor, decades in the making. Money was allocated for upgrades years ago, but those improvements never materialized, Tyson said.
Tyson puts the blame on today’s administration.
“This has gone on since March. They keep trying to Band-Aid it and I understand they have to do that right now, but in the meantime they should have a parallel task force examining it,” she said.
A bipartisan group of legislators are committed to forcing the matter to the forefront, she said. Some progress has already been made, she said, pointing to new leadership and staff in the department.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” she said. “It’s about managing our resources. This is so critical. It needs to be addressed but it keeps getting kicked down the road.”
Improved technology also could reduce instances of fraud, she said.
She wants the Legislature to explore options available through the federal government.
It’s also been difficult to find programmers for the outdated system, she added. College and universities rarely teach that programming language.
And speaking of colleges and universities, Tyson expects education to remain a central issue for lawmakers, as it is every session because it accounts for much of the state’s budget.
She points again to technology as a need when it comes to issues surrounding education. She praised a technical training program emphasized by former Gov. Sam Brownback. That program boosted training for trades like welding, electrical, automotive repair, health care and more.
Schools should also implement training for information technology, she said. Those programs make a lot of sense in the current technological age, she said, but are hard to find in public schools.
“We need to expand certificate programs in software or hardware or security certification,” she said. “COVID has really brought this to the forefront. You can live in Iola or Moran or LaHarpe and telecommute anywhere, and have those nice-paying jobs.”
The pandemic also highlights the need for improved broadband services, in both rural and urban areas, she said.
“Not only does internet access play a role in our education and our jobs, but it’s also a health issue,” she said. “We’ve seen how telehealth can work in our state.”
Lawmakers made changes to allow increased telehealth services. That needs to be made permanent, Tyson said, along with a look at how information technology can create other cost savings in the health care system.
Tyson, though, has not supported efforts to expand Medicaid, citing concerns about potential costs.
BUDGETING is always a contentious issue for those in government, and Tyson expects the next Legislative session will be no exception.
“It’s going to be a difficult year with businesses being shut down and people losing their livelihoods, and I expect our revenues will be down,” she said.
“I look at when we were going through this a few years ago and what they did in 2008 and 2009 during the recession,” she said. “We’re going to need to be very diligent at looking at places where we can save and use common sense. Just because you spent a million dollars on office supplies last year doesn’t mean you have to spend that much this year.”
Lawmakers often do not have enough time to review the budget in detail during a 90-day session. Tyson wants to see a committee or joint committee review the budget more closely after it is released by the governor.
Tyson said she would not support cutting transportation projects and does not support tax increases.
“I’m very straightforward with my constituents,” she said. “I’m not going out there to raise your taxes. I will fight for smaller government.”
She is being challenged by Humboldt Democrat Mike Bruner. Read his story here.