Republican lawmakers in Kansas on Thursday ended their state’s mask mandate, hours after Gov. Laura Kelly (D) issued an executive order that would have kept one in place.
A group of lawmakers called the Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC) voted along party lines 5-2 to rescind the governor’s mask requirement, The Kansas City Star reported.
Kansas joined 17 other states without a mask requirement, according to Kaiser Health News.
Masks have been a politically divisive issue since the beginning of the pandemic. As vaccinations have rolled out, a number of states have eased rules on masks and social distancing, even as public health experts have issued warnings about dangerous numbers of new cases. The Biden administration has cautioned states not to drop coronavirus restrictions prematurely over concerns of COVID-19 surges.
One Republican lawmaker said it did not make sense to have a mandate across the state of Kansas and noted that local communities could impose their own local requirements.
“The revocation of a one-size-fits-all statewide mandate does not in any way impact any local orders that are in place,” Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch (R) said, according to the Star. “The numbers don’t support a statewide mandate at this time.”
A new law, Senate Bill 40, which Kelly signed last month, ended all executive orders related to masks and other COVID-19 restrictions on March 31. The new law also requires the LCC to meet to review new orders related to the pandemic within 24 hours and gives the council the authority to revoke them.
The law also allows individuals and businesses to object to local COVID-19 restrictions and receive a judge’s review in 72 hours. Officials have the responsibility of proving that the restrictions improve public health in the least restrictive way.
The law leaves some local officials hesitant to keep restrictions in place out of concern they will deal with these legal challenges, according to the Star.
The Kansas House and Senate had passed resolutions encouraging the LCC to reject the mask requirement as Republicans said it exceeded the governor’s authority.
Kelly responded to the decision in a statement, saying the mandate she issued allowed counties to follow a local mask order or opt-out.
“I’m disappointed that Republican leaders are more motivated by political publicity stunts than working together to protect Kansans and our economy,” she said.
“I know that all of us are ready to get back to normal, but wearing a face-covering will help protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors from the new COVID-19 strains that are wreaking havoc in other states,” the governor added.
Kansas first issued a mask mandate in July, which has been intermittently in place. The state has seen a drop in new COVID-19 cases since mid-January when the U.S. dealt with a spike, according to The New York Times.
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This week, Biden pleaded to local officials to stop ending mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions, saying “Please, this is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down.”
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment documented that 27.5 percent of state residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. All state residents older than 16 are eligible to receive the vaccine.