GOP legislators formally voice their opposition to Kansas governor’s mask policy

photo by: John Hanna/AP Photo

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions about the COVID-19 pandemic during a news conference, Wednesday, March 3, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka.

Story updated at 9:05 p.m. Tuesday:

TOPEKA — Republicans in the GOP-controlled Kansas House formally registered their opposition Tuesday to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan for encouraging counties to keep mask mandates in place as a potentially more infectious strain of coronavirus became more widespread in the state.

The House voted 84-39 along party lines for a resolution telling legislative leaders to revoke any order from Kelly for a statewide mask policy. Kelly issued such an order in November that is due to expire Wednesday, and she has said she will issue a new order Thursday.

The measure was sponsored by House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., of Olathe; Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, of Ottawa, and Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, of Wichita, who’ve all publicly said they will oppose Kelly’s planned order.

A law that took effect last week extends a state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic from March 31 until May 28, but it also allows eight top legislative leaders, including Ryckman, Finch and Hawkins, to revoke orders the governor issues during a state of emergency.

The state has seen a sharp decline in new COVID-19 cases in recent months, and they’re now at levels seen last summer. Finch said during a brief House debate on the resolution that no circumstances justify an “overreaching” order on masks from Kelly.

The new law also leaves the final decision about mask mandates and restrictions on businesses and public gatherings to counties. But Kelly’s planned order would require elected county commissions to take a specific public vote to opt out of a statewide policy requiring people to wear masks in indoor businesses and public spaces.

Kelly said in a statement that the resolution was “unnecessary” because counties could opt out of her planned order. She said Republicans were engaged in “political games.”

At the same time, some of Kelly’s fellow Democrats noted concerns about coronavirus variants. One potentially more infectious variant first identified in the United Kingdom is responsible for 64 cases in 11 of the state’s 105 counties so far, the state health department said.

“We’re not at the end of the pandemic yet,” said Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat. “I do absolutely agree that things are getting better, but let’s not put all the sacrifices that we’ve all made at risk.”

In Shawnee County, home to Topeka, officials on Tuesday confirmed the county’s first three cases of the United Kingdom variant. Douglas County confirmed a case of the variant last week.

Two counties in the Kansas City area, Wyandotte and Leavenworth, have had cases of the variant, as has Sedgwick County, home to the state’s largest city, Wichita. Finney and Ford counties in southwest Kansas and Ellis County in northwest Kansas have had cases, and so have Crawford, Labette and Neosho counties in southeast Kansas.


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