Lawmakers: Mask order not a mandate at Capitol

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Republican leaders said Thursday that Gov. Laura Kelly’s order requiring visitors to state buildings to wear masks is not an “authorized mandate” at the Capitol.

The Legislative Coordinating Council – made up of the top GOP and Democratic leaders in the Legislature – sent a strong message about whether the governor’s mask order applied to Capitol visitors.

Without taking a vote, Republican members of the council said they expect signs mandating visitors, employees and vendors to wear masks to be updated.

“The LCC has not mandated that masks be worn in this building,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. said.

“There are signs up now that say that you have to, which hopefully will get rectified after this meeting,” Ryckman said.

The LCC meeting reflected another in a long series of disputes with the governor over mask mandates stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic albeit on a much smaller scale.

“The governor does not control this building,” Ryckman told the committee. “This is the people’s building.”

Senate President Ty Masterson saw the issue similarly to Ryckman.

“Even a question of a visitor coming in to the ground floor, or the first floor, in the common spaces, (a mask) is recommended but it is not a mandate,” he said.

Last week, Kelly ordered anyone entering state buildings to wear a mask as part of an overall order requiring state employees to wear masks indoors.

Kelly issued the order in response to a resurgence of COVID-19 as the state works to get more Kansans vaccinated against the virus.

At that time, Kelly administration officials said the rules and protocols for the Capitol would be the same as state buildings except for the spaces the Legislature controls such as committee rooms.

Masterson noted that the LCC controls the building and allocates space to the governor.

“It is this committee that controls the building,” Masterson said. “I want to be sure it’s clear.”

The governor’s office took exception to the LCC’s reaction to the governor’s order.

“Republican legislative leaders should reevaluate their priorities to focus on encouraging Kansans to get vaccinated instead of playing politics,” the governor’s spokesman, Sam Coleman, said in a statement responding to the LCC’s meeting.

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes said lawmakers should be assertive in making safety recommendations.

“We do know that there is a serious concern for safety,” Sykes said. “It is not a mandate but, I think, we as leaders should strongly recommend that those be worn.”

Ryckman asked how the LCC should address the signs about masks in the Capitol.

Masterson said the signs needed to change.

“It would certainly be my expectation that the signage would be updated to reflect the will of the committee,” he said.