Kansas Supreme Court upholds legislation limiting COVID emergency powers

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have lamented the perceived tyranny of local, state, and federal officials who use emergency powers to implement harsh mandates and restrictions.

Although such orders continue to be handed down in communities across the nation, the Kansas Supreme Court recently took a step toward returning power to the people of that state.

Details of the case

The ruling effectively determined the governor’s emergency powers and allows Kansans to challenge public health policies.

At issue in the case was Senate Bill 40, which allows citizens to file civil actions over such orders and requires public entities such as school boards to justify their policies at public hearings within 72 hours.

The legislation requires that health orders use the least restrictive measures possible. If no court decision is rendered within seven days of such a complaint, the policy is revoked by default. Furthermore, the law imposes legislative oversight on the emergency powers used by the state’s governor.

A district court ruled in June that the law was unconstitutional and determined that it did not provide due process for the government. The state’s highest court disagreed, however, overturning that ruling on appeal this week and leaving Senate Bill 40 intact.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, issued a statement touting the high court’s decision.

“No impact on school districts”

“The district court’s ruling had created unnecessary confusion about Kansas emergency management laws at a time when the rise in COVID cases makes certainty and stability in the law even more critical,” Schmidt declared.

This ruling comes as parents across the nation voice opposition to school board mandates that require students and staff to wear face masks inside public schools — and the Kansas controversy was sparked by just such a policy.

A spokesperson for the Shawnee Mission School District, which implemented a mask mandate that sparked the court challenge, said that “as a practical matter, the stay will have no impact on school districts” without the declaration of a state of disaster.

Senate Bill 40 only applies to challenges launched during a state of emergency, which is no longer active in Kansas. Nevertheless, countywide mandates can be challenged under the law and, if a statewide disaster declaration is reinstated, Kansans would have more options to oppose health orders in court.

GOP state Rep. Fred Patton noted that the law also limits the governor’s power to declare a disaster in the first place, adding: “If the governor wanted to declare another disaster that’s related to COVID, then it would have to run through a legislative body.”

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