Kansas counties to weigh in on state wide mask order

CRAWFORD and CHEROKEE COUNTY, Kan. – Kansas Governor Laura Kelly plans to implement an executive order requiring residents across the state to wear masks in many public situations. It’s set to go into effect on Friday, July 3rd. But Cherokee County Attorney Jake Conard says that counties across the state will weigh in on the order.

“They’ll have the right to impose less stringent guidelines if they so choose,” says Conard.

He says a recent change to the Kansas Emergency Management Act gives individual counties the option of putting provisions in place that are less strict in response to a state executive order.

“The county commissioners don’t have to take any action at this time if they want the mask mandate to go into effect. What they can do is if they choose to opt-out of it, they can take action to do that,” says Conard. “People still have the freedom to do as they choose. Individuals in Cherokee County can wear a mask if they want to. Private businesses can require that if you’re coming in that you need to wear a mask.”

The Cherokee County Commission won’t have a meeting until Monday, July 6th. And Crawford County Commissioners plan to make a decision on Tuesday, July 7th, after more details have been released by the Governor.

“We will probably not take additional action to undo it basically,” says Crawford County Commissioner Jeremy Johnson. “Our health officers, from the beginning, have been indicating again that masks are effective. And as opposed to business closures and stay at home orders, they aren’t nearly as restrictive.”

So, the order will be in place over the weekend. But Conard says there was another recent change to the Emergency Management Act that makes it so, as it stands right now, violating an executive order doesn’t bring criminal charges.

“It is punishable only by a civil penalty. It is not punishable by a criminal procedure,” says Conard. “Enforcement of that is left up to the local government. Specifically, it would be up to the county attorney’s office to file a civil procedure or act.”

Conard says that county commissioners do have the option of putting their own mask mandates in place that could get law enforcement involved in enforcement. But until then, Cherokee County residents won’t face any form of penalty for not following the executive order.

“I do not think that it’s a good use of county resources, or law enforcement resources, to begin filing civil lawsuits against anybody in the county that chooses not to wear a mask,” says Conard.