TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Kansas legislators, still smarting over actions Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly took early in the coronavirus pandemic, pushed Monday to prevent the state from restricting religious gatherings or keeping abortion providers open during emergencies.
But Republicans are deeply split over how much to limit the power of state and local officials during future pandemics. Kelly kept a statewide stay-at-home order in place for five weeks last spring to check COVID-19’s spread. But the GOP-controlled Legislature later forced her to accept local control over mask mandates and the restriction of businesses and public gatherings to keep a state of emergency in place under a law that expires March 31.
Legislators are considering permanent changes in Kansas emergency management laws, and the state Senate passed, 27-12, a bill that would go further in restricting the power of the governor, the state health department’s director and local officials during public health emergencies. The House Judiciary Committee approved a narrower measure aimed at giving legislative leaders a bigger role in managing disasters.