By JIM MCLEAN
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is suing a GOP-led panel of legislative leaders that blocked her executive order limiting religious services and funerals to 10 or fewer people.
The Democrat also said Thursday that it isn’t clear whether her previous order from late March, meant to stop the spread of COVID-19, is still in effect. The attorney general has said he believes so.
Kelly said that her legal team thinks only the full Legislature can revoke an executive order, not the Legislative Coordinating Council. She wants the state Supreme Court to take up the issue quickly.
Kelly expanded her initial restrictions on gatherings from March 24 to include church services. It took effect Wednesday, and applied to attendees, but not choirs, ministers or others who were taking part in a ceremony.
With Easter services just days away, five Republican legislative leaders contended the move was an unconstitutional restriction on worship. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said his office suggested Kelly issued an “overreaching executive order.” Based on advice from her chief counsel, Kelly said she believed the expansion was legal.
Many churches already had canceled services or had moved them online. But by Wednesday afternoon, all of the Republicans on the seven-member Legislative Coordinating Council voted to rescind Kelly’s executive order.
Not long after, Kelly held a news conference in which she called the decision “shockingly irresponsible” and said her legal team was looking into their options. Schmidt later issued a statement that said the original executive order from March 24 was still in effect because the one that limited church gatherings and funerals hadn’t yet been published in the Kansas Register.
Before Thursday’s news conference, Kelly’s official Facebook page addressed the situation, saying that the “physical church … has never defined Kansans’ deep and abiding faith.”
Kansas was the first state to close K-12 school buildings for the rest of the academic year. As of Friday afternoon, the state had more than 1,100 cases of COVID-19 and 42 deaths, and pointed to a dozen outbreaks that were tied to group settings, including three church events.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.
Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.