Republican leadership blocks religious gathering size limit

This afternoon, a group of legislative leaders voted to overturn Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order that  removed exemptions for churches and funerals from the state’s limit on gatherings of 10 or more people.

The group, the Legislative Coordinating Council, was created and given power through a resolution passed at the end of this year’s session that allowed legislative leaders to review and overturn executive orders issued by Kelly.

The Wichita Eagle reported that, along partisan lines, Republicans on the council voted to rescind Kelly’s the order.

Kelly made the order on Tuesday, stating that with the Easter holiday coming up and COVID-19 infection rates expected to peak in coming weeks, allowing large gatherings of people, even for religious ceremonies, would create a high risk of spread for the infection.
Religious gatherings are currently responsible for three outbreak clusters in the State of Kansas.

“I’m wholly committed to protecting Kansas’s religious liberty as governor,” she said at the time of the order. “Both conducting and attending religious services remains a designated essential function and cannot be prohibited by local orders.”

Before the Tuesday order was made, most churches were already abiding by requested limits of 10 people or fewer.

As the news broke, Senate President Susan Wagle distributed a press release on the action.
“The governor should not use this crisis, or any other crisis, as a basis to restrict our constitutional rights. My church has canceled Mass at the advice of health experts, the same advice most Kansans are now following. However, they did it with free will, not a mandate by big brother infringing on the individual freedoms given to us by our Bill of Rights.”

The council’s decision comes as confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 1,046 in Kansas, with 38 deaths. 11 of those deaths were confirmed Thursday. Nationally, at the time, there were 418,000 confirmed cases of the virus, with 14,257 deaths, according to counts compiled by independent media from state health departments and hospitals.

Before the vote, Attorney General Derick Schmidt weighed in on the matter in a memo to law enforcement, stating that while it might be good public health, enforcing the order would likely be unconstitutional and discouraged its enforcement.

Laura Kelly responded at a scheduled press conference defending her decisions as absolutely critical and rebuked the rescind order as irresponsible partisan game-playing.

She called Schmidt’s memo bizarre and noted it had no legal authority whatsoever and said it injected chaos into state first response systems.
Republican leaders action’s as a “Shockingly irresponsible decision that puts every Kansan’s life at risk,” she said. “There are real life consequences to the partisan games Republican leaders played today and I simply cannot stand for it.Kansans are dying every day at the hand of this pandemic and there’s no room or excuse for these petty political distractions. Therefor I’m directing my chief counsel to explore our legal options to resolve this unnecessary confusion so we can return all of our focus and resources to the necessary and life saving tasks at hand.”

She said Kansans are all in the fight against the virus together.

“Corona virus knows no boundaries, no faith, no political party,” she said.”It is a deadly threat to us all no mater who we are, where we live and what our political affiliation might be. If we are to beat it we need to attack it with the same resolve, united, as Kansans.”

Kansas Director of Health Lee Norman followed saying he was disappointed in the actions.
“I’m not a politician but a pandemic is no time for politics. I can not stress enough we can not let our guard down and let our population of people be confused by the message. We can not keep gathering groups of people or we will not bend this curve.

He noted that group gatherings resulted in 165 cases in Kansas. He noted that two from Montgomery County died following attending a church conference in Wyandotte County, that has resulted in numerous cases spread through out Kansas.

“Use our comment sense and quite clustering together otherwise we’re going to have more of this occur.”