Republican legislators in Kansas ended the state’s mask mandate Thursday, effectively blocking an executive order from Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly that would have kept it in place.
The Legislative Coordinating Council, which is a group of eight leading state lawmakers, voted 5-2 along party lines to end Kelly’s mask mandate just hours after she extended it, according to The Kansas City Star. State Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop was not present for the vote, which was conducted virtually.
Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, who is a Republican from Ottawa, said, “The revocation of a one-size-fits-all statewide mandate does not in any way impact any local orders that are in place. The numbers don’t support a statewide mandate at this time.”
Kelly was not thrilled about the vote, saying 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. I know that all of us are ready to get back to normal, but wearing a face-covering will help protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors from the new COVID-19 strains that are wreaking havoc in other states.”
As The Kansas City Star further reported:
The elimination of the mandate is the most striking example of the fallout from Senate Bill 40, the sprawling rewrite of the state’s emergency powers law. But the measure’s biggest effects are likely to play out in the weeks ahead as residents and businesses are empowered to more easily challenge a host of local pandemic rules. This is despite GOP claims that rejecting the statewide mandate gave local governments control.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the measure and Kelly signed it last month. It allows residents and businesses who object to city, county or school district restrictions to trigger a lightning-fast 72-hour review by a judge. The burden of proof falls on officials to demonstrate that their rules protect public health in the least restrictive way possible.
Kansas is now one of 17 other states without a mask mandate and has had one intermittently since July. In November, a restaurant owner near Kansas City made headlines for refusing to obey the mandate. As The Daily Wire reported:
A Kansas restaurant approximately 10 miles southwest of Kansas City is refusing to obey the state’s mask mandate because its owner said he “doesn’t believe” that wearing them helps curb the spread of COVID-19.
Don Chilito’s Mexican Restaurant is one of 18 establishments in Mission, Kansas, that have received a visit from District Attorney Steve Howe’s office after non-compliance complaints, according to local NBC affiliate KSHB. Of those 18, only Don Chilito’s is refusing to comply.
Don Chilito’s is a family business owned by Barry Cowden, who maintained that a mask mandate violates his civil liberties. “It’s supposed to be a free country, and we can make our own decisions with what we do in our lives and in our businesses,” Cowden said.
Regarding studies that have shown that wearing masks helps mitigate the spread of the virus, Cowden said, “I don’t believe it. I don’t think that there is any science that proves that.”
People should wear masks to protect against COVID-19, according to CDC guidance. “Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. Studies show that masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth,” the CDC said.