Kansas Statehouse visitors no longer required to wear masks after governor's office changes signs

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal
The Department of Administration on Tuesday changed the sign on the governor's mask policy at the Capitol Visitors Center entrance. (Aug. 24, 2021)

Two and a half weeks after state legislators challenged Gov. Laura Kelly's authority to require everyone to mask up at state buildings, the governor's office has apparently given in.

New signage from the Department of Administration on the doors of the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday declared that masks or other face coverings are "required for Executive Branch employees for entry into this building." Masks are recommended for everyone else.

Senate GOP staff said the new language was agreed upon between Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, and the governor.

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The governor's office declined to comment on the new signage, and House GOP staff didn't respond to a request for comment.

"While the governor has authority over executive agencies, buildings, and offices she controls, her authority does not extend to legislators, legislative staff, nor members of the public who visit our beautiful Kansas State Capitol," Masterson said in a previous statement.

"We will resist any efforts to impose mask mandates and other restrictions upon the people of Kansas," he continued.

During her July 28 news conference, Kelly cited her authority under the state Constitution to order "state employees, regardless of their vaccination status, will be required to wear masks indoors at work if they cannot socially distance." A written copy of the order was never released to the general public, and confusion persisted over who it applied to.

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The previous notice at the entrance to the Statehouse said masks were "required for State employees, vendors and general public for entry into this building."

Led by Republican leadership, the Legislative Coordinating Council on Aug. 5 challenged the Democratic governor's authority over the building.

"The governor does not control this building — this is the people's building," Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said at the time.

Ryckman and Masterson argued that the Legislature controlled mask policy in the building, except for areas granted to the governor. They also said Kelly couldn't issue mask orders for legislative staff.

"Although we would recommend masks, it is not a mandate, it is optional for visitors to participate in this building," Masterson said at the time.

Ryckman said the old signs were "not factual," and Republican leadership communicated an expectation that Kelly's administration change the signs.

"Republican legislative leaders should reevaluate their priorities to focus on encouraging Kansans to get vaccinated instead of playing politics," Sam Coleman, a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement at the time.

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