Gov. Kelly says she intends to sign emergency extension

TOPEKA — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday that a measure approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature to rewrite Kansas’ emergency management laws while limiting her authority during the coronavirus pandemic is “reasonable.”

Legislators sent her the bill Tuesday and she said she’s inclined to sign it, “given what I know.”

The measure would preserve the control that legislators gave county officials last year over mandating masks and restricting businesses and public gatherings, and it would allow legislative leaders to block the governor’s executive orders starting in April. It also would strip appointed local health officers of their power to impose restrictions, leaving decisions to elected county commissions.

But the bill also would extend the current state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic until May 28, instead of allowing it to expire March 31.

“I asked all the Democrats to support it,” Kelly told reporters after touring an east Topeka childcare center. “The emergency management act that we’ve had in place was put in place in, like, the 70s, and it did not anticipate something like a pandemic that could last over a year and would require governors to issue as many executives as we do.”

Her comments come as the number of new cases drops to levels not seen since the summer. The state added just 686 new coronavirus cases from Monday to Wednesday, bringing the total to 298,904. The number of deaths increased by two to 4,837.

The state health department also reported Wednesday that about 596,162 of the state’s 2.9 million residents or 20.5% had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The department said Kansas sites have administered 70% of the nearly 1.3 million doses the state has received.

Amid the decline in new cases and the growing number of vaccinated residents, restrictions have been dropping.

In the Wichita area, Sedgwick County commissioners overruled their health officer Tuesday and ditched the county’s COVID-19 mask mandate for public and private schools, leaving the decision on whether to require them to schools leaders, The Wichita Eagle reports.

The effect will be limited, though, because the bulk of the county’s educational system, the 47,000-student Wichita district, will continue to require masks for students and staff for the foreseeable future, a spokeswoman said.


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