Republican legislative leaders take aim at Governor’s plan to re-issue mask order

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions during a news conference, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, at...
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions during a news conference, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)(AP Photo/John Hanna)
Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 7:35 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Gov. Laura Kelly’s plans to re-issue an order imposing a mask mandate on the state face opposition before it even happens.

Kelly signed a bill late Wednesday afternoon that makes changes to the Kansas Emergency Management Act. The bill extends the state’s current disaster declaration for COVID-19 through May 28, 2021. It also revokes all current executive orders related to the pandemic, while allowing the governor to re-issue them under processes outlined in the bill.

In a statement announcing the signing, Kelly also said, on April 1, she plans to re-issue a slew of executive orders the new law ends March 31st. Among them is one that requires face coverings in most public places and in outdoor spaces where social distance cannot be maintained. It also requires businesses to require employees and customers to wear masks. Kelly says the order would apply to all counties that opted out of the previous face mask order.

Under the new law, the Kansas Legislature has the authority when in session to act to rescind executive orders. Senate President Ty Masterson promised Wednesday night they would do just that.

“I applaud Governor Kelly for signing SB 40, which reforms the Kansas Emergency Management Act by providing Kansans due process rights, limiting the governor’s powers, ensuring the buck stops with elected officials, and instituting critical checks and balances,” he said. “Accordingly, should the governor issue any new executive order which imposes an undue burden on the people of Kansas, including an unnecessary new mask mandate, rest assured the Senate will take immediate action once we receive the order.”

Masterson’s office said it could be next week before the legislature receives the order to take any action.

If the legislature is adjourned for three or more days, a majority of the Legislative Coordinating Council may revoke an executive order.

The new KEMA bill also allows county commissions to opt out of the executive orders. Since it is a new order, counties that opted out previously would need to take the action again. In addition, several county commissions recently voted to end their mask orders.

Sedgwick Co. commissioners voted Wednesday morning to end their mask order. Their concern also stemmed from another part of the KEMA bill, which allows anyone who feels aggrieved by a county emergency order, including a mask mandate, to file a lawsuit. The law further states the court must side with the resident, unless the order is “narrowly tailored to the purpose stated in the order and uses the least restrictive means to achieve such purpose.”

Among other orders Kelly re-issued Wednesday are measures prohibiting certain foreclosures and evictions; extending expired drivers’ licenses and ID cards through June 30, 2021; and authorizing additional vaccinators for the state. The orders run through May 28, 2021.

In a statement, Kelly said she signed the bill because it was the best compromise.

“This bipartisan compromise will extend the State of Disaster Emergency that allows us to provide hospitals with PPE, support food banks and pantries, and otherwise respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kelly said. “The bill includes provisions that I do not support and that could complicate our emergency response efforts. But I will continue to work with legislators and local leaders to keep Kansans safe and healthy during this pandemic.”

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