As anticipated, a panel of legislative leaders on Thursday revoked Gov. Laura Kelly’s new mask mandate, a move that Democrats said sends the wrong message to a state that’s still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Legislative Coordinating Council voted 5-2 to revoke the mandate, which was issued to replace one that lapsed Wednesday under the state’s new emergency management law. The decision does not affect any local orders that have been implemented.
The council left in place 11 other executive orders that the governor issued Thursday morning.
Democrats said the decision to revoke the mask mandate sends the wrong message that the state has emerged from the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re getting close to the finish line. Things are getting better. But we’re not there yet,” said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer.
“If we revoke the mask mandate, a lot of people will think it’s time to go back to business as usual,” he said. “I think that would be a huge mistake.”
Sawyer urged lawmakers to wait until more Kansans are vaccinated.
The latest data from the state health department shows that almost 28% of Kansans have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and about 15% had received two doses and are fully vaccinated.
Kelly issued a sharp rebuke to the LCC’s decision.
“The reissued face-covering protocol was the same as before – it gives counties the option to follow a local mask ordinance or opt-out,” Kelly said in a statement.
“I’m disappointed that Republican leaders are more motivated by political publicity stunts than working together to protect Kansans and our economy.”
House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch said the number of cases do not warrant a statewide mandate.
He said the number of cases today is less than a tenth of what they were when the first mask mandate was issued last year.
“The revocation of a one-size-fits-all statewide mandate does not in any way impact local orders that may be in place,” he said.
Senate President Ty Masterson called the mandate “burdensome” and “unnecessary.”
“Numerous local governments have recently opted to ease or repeal their local mask mandates,” Masterson said in a statement after Thursday’s meeting.
“More will surely follow, demonstrating an increased desire to get back to normal – and a refreshing trust in the people of Kansas to make their own decisions.
“Today’s action by the LCC reflects that trust.”