TOPEKA, Kan. — Top Kansas legislators on Thursday revoked an order aimed at encouraging counties to keep mask mandates amid the coronavirus pandemic, just hours after Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly issued it.
Kelly’s order required people to wear masks indoors at businesses and public spaces and outdoors when they can’t socially distance. State law gives counties the final say, but her order meant that elected county commissions had to vote to set less restrictive rules or opt out.
The governor said in a statement that the order would ensure that past efforts to check the virus “will not have been wasted.”
The order was similar to a mask policy she issued in November. She was required to reissue it under a new Kansas law that also gives eight top legislators the power to revoke an order issued by the governor because of a pandemic or other emergency. And they immediately did so.
Their vote came after Republicans in both chambers approved resolutions this week directing legislative leaders to rescind any statewide mask policy.
Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, of Ottawa, said the earlier order was issued as case numbers soared and things have changed drastically since.
“Thankfully they have come down, and we just want to encourage people to be safe and practice infection control. But the numbers don’t support a statewide mandate at this time,” he said.
Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said counties can still pass and enforce their own rules.
“I would like to remind everyone that this is simply a revocation of a statewide mandate,” he said. “It does not prevent anyone from wearing a mask. The local controls are all still in place.”
But the two Democrats in the group — Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, of Lenexa, and House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, of Wichita — voted against overturning Kelly’s order, saying it sent a stronger message than any individual county orders.
“It just sends a better message and it is protecting the economy and it is boosting consumer confidence instead of just those counties because it is a broader,” Skyes said.
Sawyer said most residents still aren’t fully vaccinated and that virus numbers are creeping up in some areas of the country as variants spread.
“We don’t want to declare victory too soon,” he said. “If people quit being careful then cases are going to go up and more people are going to get sick and unfortunately some of them are going to die.”