A special session for mask mandate?

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Gov. Laura Kelly appears to want to discuss the possibility of holding a special legislative session to craft a bipartisan plan for a new mask mandate.

An agenda obtained by the Sunflower State Journal shows that the governor wants to  discuss legislation about a statewide mask mandate when she meets with lawmakers virtually on Tuesday afternoon.

The agenda indicates discussion of a special legislative session to implement the legislation. When it might be called – before or after the election – was not known.

Sam Coleman, the governor’s communications director, did not respond to an email inquiring about the agenda for the meeting, but he did tell The Associated Press “all options are on the table.”

Last week, the governor invited legislative leadership to a virtual Zoom meeting to discuss the pandemic.

The meeting, which is not open to the public, is set for 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The memo cautions lawmakers about how not to violate the open meetings law because it could involve a quorum of the State Finance Council and the Legislative Coordinating Council.

“It is important that the group avoid discussing any items that may fall under the jurisdiction of either body,” the memo states.

“The meeting has been called only for the purpose of discussing possible legislation – a bill passed by both chambers and signed by the governor – regarding a statewide mask requirement,” the memo states.

“Neither the SFC or the LCC has any authority or jurisdiction in the drafting, debate, or enactment of such legislation,” the memo states.

The memo said leading lawmakers have only been invited in their capacity in the House and Senate and not in their role on the State Finance Council or the LCC.

“Sticking closely to the topic on the agenda on the agenda – possible legislation – will avoid any (open meeting) issues relating to the SFC or LCC,” the memo states.

Last summer, the governor issued a statewide executive order requiring masks in indoor public spaces as well as outdoors if social distancing of at least 6 feet couldn’t be maintained.

However, about 90 of the state’s 105 counties opted out of the order, complicating efforts to keep the spread of the virus in check.

Since then, number of COVID-19 cases has been mushrooming, prompting the governor to seek legislative recourse.

Last month, Will Lawrence, the governor’s chief of staff, asked lawmakers to reconsider a law enacted earlier this year that allows local governments to override a statewide emergency order.

Lawrence said giving local governments the latitude to opt out of a statewide health order makes it almost impossible for a comprehensive approach to containing the spread of the coronavirus.

“It’s really difficult…to have a situation where a patchwork is created because everyone dropped out of an order like that,” he said. “There’s probably some wisdom in revisiting  that.”

The governor has pointed to instances in other states where masks orders have helped curb the spread of the virus, although there are Republican lawmakers who question whether they are effective.

A recent report out of Arizona found that COVID-19 cases soared after a statewide stay-at-home order expired and dropped following local mask mandates.

The report, published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was authored by Arizona health officials.

As of Monday, there have been 78,676 cases of COVID-19 in Kansas with 976 deaths reported.

The governor has pointed out that the number has increased from about 15,000 when counties started opting out of the mask mandate.