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Kansas governor vetoes Republican plan to ban mask mandates


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday vetoed a bill that would prohibit government mask mandates in Kansas and curb the power of state and local health officials during outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The measure was the Republican-controlled Legislature's response to mask mandates and other restrictions that outraged many conservative constituents during the coronavirus pandemic. But the measure split GOP lawmakers enough when it passed last month that supporters were far short of the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a veto.

The bill would prohibit state and local officials from issuing mandates, except for hospitals, other medical facilities and nursing homes they operate. Officials couldn't require people to show proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19 to use public spaces.

The measure also would prohibit state and local health officials from ordering law enforcement agencies to help them enforce orders aimed at controlling infectious diseases.

Republican lawmakers saw the measure as protecting personal liberties, but Kelly said in her veto message that it would prevent adequate responses to outbreaks of diseases like measles, tuberculosis and even bird flu.

“This bill puts the safety of all Kansans and our economy at risk,” Kelly said in her message.

Lawmakers plan to reconvene May 23 for one or two days of work.