In a marathon special meeting called by Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple, the Wichita City Council today worked through and approved an emergency ordinance that effectively overrides the vote taken yesterday by the Sedgwick County Commission making Gov. Laura Kelly’s mandatory mask order “strongly recommended” versus mandatory. The city council’s emergency ordinance is effective immediately.
Under their “home rule” authority, the council adopted a separate ordinance, rather than overrode the County vote, and with it, added more teeth to the mask law. According to a memorandum issued yesterday by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, violation of the governor’s mask order was not a crime but a civil violation not enforceable by law enforcement officers. According to Schmidt, police officers could not stop anyone for not wearing a mask or ticket them.
Under the City of Wichita ordinance, violations can draw a fine of $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense, and $100 for the third offense. While police can issue a citation, the council members asked the city manager to implement an enforcement program that first encourage education and asked an individual to put on a mask first. The city manager was not sure whether the City had access or funding to have enough masks to make one available in all situations
Last evening in a specially called meeting, the Sedgwick County Commission voted to “strongly recommend” rather than make mandatory Gov. Laura Kelly’s requirement order making mask wearing in Kansas mandatory. Not happy with the commissioner’s vote, Wichita Mayor Whipple called a special meeting for 2 p.m. to discuss and vote on a proposed ordinance mandating the use of masks and face coverings within the City of Wichita limits.
While attendance at the meeting was not allowed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the meeting was followed by a large crowd on the city’s Cox cable channel 7 and on the city’s you tube channel.
Individuals were also able to give comments via email and also in person via the meeting by going to viewing rooms set up at Century II.
On June 4, the Kansas Legislature adopted House Bill 2016 which reduced Gov. Kelly’s power to implement executive orders in regard to COVID-19. With that new law in place, the governor’s authority on COVID-19 executive orders no longer carried the letter of the law, but were recommended actions for counties to follow. That law passed the authority to implement the ordinances to the 105 county commissions across the state.
While many of the media were suggesting that the mask order announced on Tuesday, and released officially by the governor on Thursday was the law, The Community Voice was clear in communicating implementation of the ordinance was up to county commissioners and suggested waiting to see what commissions chose to do across the state.
As was expected, the Sedgwick County Commission voted not to make Kelly’s order mandatory. The commission had previously passed a resolutions strongly encouraging the wearing of mask and their vote on Thursday evening reconfirmed that position.
Those voting in the majority said it was important to leave mask wearing requirements up to business owners and after meeting earlier that day with a coalition of business owners felt that the business community was proactively moving to make sure their employees and customers were safe. In addition, they cited problems with enforcement of the order.
Members of the county commission had some concerns about the governor’s order, and so did members of the city council. In addition to adding fines and an enforcement policy, the city council made several other small changes to the bill, however otherwise closely adopted the governor’s order.
The Wichita City Council ordinance only applies to individuals and businesses inside the City limits. Other cities in Sedgwick County, such as Derby, Park City and Bellaire can still follow the county’s “strongly recommended” rule. In addition, event with the county’s “strongly recommended” rule, business owners can implement mandatory mask rules that individuals must follow or leave the premises immediately.
Here’s a link to the ordinance as presented, but not as passed. When a final copy of the ordinance is released by the city, we will make sure to update the link.