Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued an order April 7 limiting religious gatherings in the state to 10 people or less, but state officials kicked back, reversing Kelly’s executive order the next day.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the order likely violated the state Constitution. The Legislative Coordinating Council voted 5-2 to undo the order that limited in-person religious services and funerals to 10 people. Violations of the order could have been prosecuted as misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and 12 months in jail.
Local restrictions, like in Sedgwick County, remain in place and presumably don’t violate the state Constitution because no criminal charges result from violations.
She accused the attorney general and Republican legislators of playing partisan games.
“I was so deeply troubled to learn that our attorney general has decided to launch a bizarre, confusing and overtly political attack at such a moment of tragedy and that Republican legislative leaders have chosen to follow suit with a shockingly irresponsible decision that will put every Kansas life at risk,” said Kelly, a Democrat.
Kelly added that she’s directing her chief counsel to explore their legal options to “resolve this confusion.”
“There’s a chance that the action of the legislative coordinating council today actually rescinded the first mass gathering executive order that we put in place,” she said.”We are checking and we are doing everything we can as quickly as possible to remedy this situation.”
The state is reporting 1,046 positive cases of coronavirus and 38 deaths as of April 8.
Sedgwick County offered local guidance for public-gathering sizes as they relate to religious worship services and funerals.
The county offers clarification that it is following its own local stay-at-home order guidelines that began on March 25 — five days before the statewide order — and specifically limits all public gatherings to 10 or fewer people, including in-person religious services. Sedgwick County’s stay-at-home order continues at least until April 23.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued the following statement in response to requests for comment after Governor Kelly’s afternoon news conference Wednesday:
“I certainly disagree with the governor’s assessment that adhering to the laws and Constitution of this state is an ‘unnecessary distraction’ – rather, that is precisely what is required of each of us, especially during stressful times. My point of view should not have been surprising to the governor because my office repeatedly advised against issuing the overreaching executive order regulating churches and notified her I would express my concerns publicly if she proceeded. She did, and so did I.
“As I said this morning, the important point for all Kansans is this: Follow sound public health advice and do not gather for religious services or for any other reason until the COVID-19 crisis has passed. I am confident Kansans of faith can be trusted to follow that important advice without their government threatening criminal sanctions for disobedience.
“Throughout this COVID-19 emergency, the attorney general’s office has worked cooperatively with the governor’s office and many others in state government to help ensure the unprecedented use of emergency decrees remains lawful, and we will continue to do so. I trust the governor will as well, despite her uncharacteristically political comments this afternoon.
“As the dust settles, our assessment of the current situation is that Executive Order 20-14, the prior version of the ‘mass gatherings’ order, remains in effect because the new order rescinding it has not been published in the Kansas Register and therefore has not taken effect. We would be happy to consult with the governor’s legal staff if they have a different view.”