Kansas GOP lawmakers push to ban all mask mandates | Madison.com Health, Sports Health & Fitness

By JOHN HANNA – AP Political Writer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kansas are trying to ban state and local mask mandates during disease outbreaks, advancing such a ban on Wednesday along with proposals to discourage local restrictions on businesses and public gatherings.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure that would limit the power of state and local health officials during pandemics and strip them of their power to mandate the wearing of masks. He approved a separate measure requiring cities and counties to cut business property taxes for each day they are forced to close or limit operations. Both measures are then submitted to the full Senate for debate.

GOP lawmakers have persistently criticized Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly for steps she took to contain the spread of COVID-19, particularly early in the pandemic when she ordered many businesses to close for five weeks. and the closure of school buildings to most students for several months. The Republican-controlled legislature forced her to accept diminishing governor power over time, but then focused on limiting the power of cities, counties and local school boards to impose restrictions.

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Many Republicans have defended allowing local authorities to impose mask mandates or limit businesses and public gatherings during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. But Republicans who have historically opposed such rules have grown in influence as conservative operatives have increasingly seen the restrictions as an issue to be turned against Democrats in this year’s midterm elections.

“I think we tend to agree that we can look back now — decisions were made that we hung on too long or were definitely over the top,” said State Sen. Mike Thompson, a conservative Shawnee Republican and vocal critic. restrictions.

Thompson argued that Kansas officials did not give enough thought at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to how the restrictions would hurt the economy. In pushing to ban future mask mandates, he also suggested that forcing children to wear masks in schools hindered their development and that “masks really don’t work”.

In fact, recent studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that such claims are not supported by evidence.

“We have committee members making decisions based on complete misinformation,” said Democratic Senator Ethan Corson of Fairway.

The Legislature’s debate on public health policy also overshadowed Kelly’s bid to keep his administration’s top public health official in place.

Conservatives initially opposed the appointment of Janet Stanek to head the state Department of Health and Environment to show their displeasure with the agency’s handling of COVID-19 in the past. But the Senate voted 32-5 on Wednesday to confirm Stanek’s nomination.

Stanek has served as acting head of the health department since November and would have had to step down had the Senate not confirmed it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee bill banning mask mandates would also allow parents to claim a religious exemption from longstanding requirements to vaccinate children against diseases such as measles and whooping cough to enroll them in school or to daycare without being questioned. Schools would also be prohibited from separating vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

The measure would only allow local school boards to close schools in the event of an infectious disease outbreak, and only for 30 days at a time. National and local authorities would not be allowed to place limits on places of worship.

An individual or business suing for restrictions should have a hearing within three days and a decision “without reasonable delay”. They would also have their legal fees covered if they won.

Corson called the bill “dangerous.”

“It’s weird after seeing, as we’ve seen, what this pandemic has done,” added Democratic Sen. David Haley of Kansas City. “This legislature wants to tell the government to ignore science.”

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