Legislative overreach harms response to health emergencies

Laws meant to empower those opposed to COVID-19 safety measures are damaging the ability of cities, counties and school boards to protect the public.

By

Opinion

August 4, 2021 - 9:06 AM

Topeka State Capital

Wipe the docket clean, judges. Disgruntled parents come first.

Clear your schedule, school board members. You’ve got some unhappy students.

Don’t think about enacting public safety measures, county commissioners. It could get you sued.

All three scenarios are the result of a law hastily crafted this spring when Kansas legislators made numerous changes to the Kansas Emergency Management Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law passed by a veto-proof majority, 31-8 in the Senate; 118-5 in the House.

Most notably, Senate Bill 40 allows people to sue cities, counties and local school boards if they don’t agree with mask mandates or other restrictions in place.

THE BILL also allows a select few to pull rank.

Hearings on complaints must be held within three days, with decisions handed down within 10. 

For school boards and municipal bodies that means convening at a moment’s notice. 

This is your new priority, legislators say. Never mind employee negotiations or budget deadlines. 

And if city, county or local school boards fail to amend their protocols, the new law paves the way for plaintiffs to pursue legal redress by demanding district courts hold a hearing within three days and issue a ruling in 10. 

Never mind the months-long backlog of cases exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These matters take precedence, judges were ordered, superseding true emergencies such as domestic violence protection cases or business restraining orders.

Again, where’s the fire?

Well, mom and dad oppose a school face mask policy to guard against COVID-19, alleging the practice negatively affects their child.

Never mind that every other student is asked to do the same, or that the pandemic is still with us, thanks, in part, to those who refuse to get vaccinated. The ideal vaccination rate is 75%-80% in order to achieve herd immunity — the level at which the immunocompromised are safe to be among the general population without fear of contracting the virus. To date, Kansas has a vaccination rate of 45.4%.

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