Governor, lawmakers agree on plan to encourage masks

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Gov. Laura Kelly and legislative leaders agreed Tuesday on a plan to work with cities and counties to encourage the use of masks, averting the need for an emergency special legislative session.

“Legislative leadership agreed to work with me through a strategy of engagement with municipalities, counties, and stakeholders to increase the use of masks and mask requirements across the state of Kansas,” the governor said in a statement.

“It is my hope that this bipartisan outreach strategy will avert the need for emergency legislation through a special session.”

For some time, the governor and her administration have believed that a provision in state law that allows counties to opt out of emergency orders has complicated efforts to bring the number of coronavirus cases under control.

The governor issued a statewide executive order last July 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.

So far, Republican lawmakers have shown scant interest in changing that part of the state’s emergency management law.

House leadership issued a statement after the meeting encouraging the use of masks.

“We call on all Kansans to practice personal responsibility and compassion for their fellow Kansans by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and proper hygiene. This is the right thing to do,” the statement said.

“In the words of the former U.S. Senate Chaplain, Peter Marshall, ‘May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.'”

Senate President Susan called the late-afternoon meeting with the governor  “productive.”

The governor, she said, agreed to work with local county commissions directly and ask for their help in “managing areas of concern rather than imposing another state mandate.”