By JIM MCLEAN
Kansas News Service
TOPEKA — Kansans from Liberal to Leavenworth will need to wear a mask in public starting Friday.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said she will issue a new executive order later this week requiring masks. While the State Finance Council will review the order — a Republican-majority panel of legislators that she has clashed with during the pandemic — they cannot revoke it. Only the full Legislature has the ability to do that with a "concurrent resolution" Kelly's office said.
"If they care about keeping the businesses in their district open, they won't fight this one," Kelly said at a news conference Monday.
However, counties can vote not to implement the mandate.
Kansas is one of several states in the U.S. that have seen an increase in coronavirus cases over the past few weeks. As of Monday, the state's tally is at more than 14,000 COVID-19 cases and 270 deaths.
Because of the uptick across the country as businesses have reopened, other states with Democratic governors, including California. Washington and North Carolina, have instituted mask ordinances. Florida and Texas, which have Republican governors, shut down bars after large spikes in COVID-19 cases.
Kelly said that there is "enough data to really prove that masks work, and no mask doesn't work," adding, "I know people don't like masks. I don't like them either. Too bad."
Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a member of the State Finance Council, said in a statement that Kelly is "inconsistent in her direction, one day giving authority to local government, and the next, taking it back, causing total confusion."
Wagle also said the focus should stay focused on the budget shortfall caused by the pandemic.
Already, Kansas City, Missouri, has instituted a mask ordinance, with Wyandotte County to follow at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Douglas County's mandate starts Wednesday.
The governor said the attorney general's office will enforce the statewide mandate.
The governor's office said that most Kansans will have to wear masks in stores, shops, restaurants and places where people cannot maintain a 6-foot distance. More details about the ordinance will be released on Thursday.
Kelly and Republican lawmakers on the State Finance Council had contentious fights over executive orders starting about a month into the pandemic over whether churches could be singled out in the statewide stay-at-home mandate.
Eventually, lawmakers and the governor had to compromise on things like Kansas' reopening plan, which became a recommendation instead of mandate, as well as who could decide on how to spend coronavirus aid.
Two of the leading candidates for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Kansas, former Secretary of State Kris Kobach and U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, came out in strong opposition to mask requirements at a debate last week in Wichita.
Kobach, who lost the 2018 governor’s race to Kelly, charged that she and other Democratic office holders have used the pandemic to expand their authority.
“All of the states that have the most oppressive, totalitarian rules in place are blue states and the state’s that allow freedom, that allow choice are red states,” Kobach said.
Marshall said while he’s against governments ordering people to wear masks, business owners “should have the right” to require it of their customers.
Jim McLean is an editor and reporter for KCUR 89.3. He is the managing director of KCUR's Kansas News Service, a collaboration between KCUR and other public media stations across Kansas.