The Associated Press
Topeka — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly slowed down the reopening of Kansas’ economy, ordering bars and bowling alleys to remain closed at least through the end of the month and keeping some coronavirus-inspired restrictions in place until near the end of June.
The announcement came May 7.
Kelly’s new order immediately stirred strong opposition in the Republican-controlled Legislature. GOP lawmakers have complained that Kelly is moving too slowly to get people back to work after lifting a statewide stay at home order May 4, and they have disliked the different treatment depending on the kinds of businesses. House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins called her latest order an “abuse of power.”
“Gov. Kelly has consistently failed to give Kansans straight answers and clear goals,” said Hawkins, a Wichita Republican. “Our struggling businesses don’t deserve even more uncertainty during this time.”
The governor had expected to lift some restrictions Monday, but her new order modifies that plan to reflect her administration’s concern that the spread of the novel coronavirus is not yet decreasing. A limit on public gatherings of 10 or fewer people will remain in place, rather than being increased to 30 on Monday.
Kansas has had nearly 7,600 confirmed coronavirus cases and 188 COVID-19-related deaths as of Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The increases in cases since Tuesday was about 5% and in deaths, about 4%. But the number of actual cases is thought to be higher because of limited testing and because people can be infected without feeling ill.
“I said from the beginning that public safety must remain the top priority, which means that our reopening efforts must be driven by data, not dates,” Kelly said in a statement announcing her new order.
The governor already had allowed “non-essential” retail stores to reopen and restaurants to resume dine-in services May 4, with some restrictions.
Kelly’s new order will allow barbershops, hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors, tanning salons, gyms and fitness centers to reopen as planned Monday. Owners of such businesses had been among the loudest critics of Kelly’s reopening plan, saying they could resume operations safely with deep cleaning and social distancing.
Under the governor’s new order, salons still will have to take customers by appointment only, while gym and fitness centers won’t be allowed to have group classes or use their locker rooms for anything other than bathroom facilities.
Local officials can issue stricter rules, however.
Bars, night clubs, bowling alleys would remain closed until at least June 1 under Kelly’s new order, and summer camps, fairs and festivals would not be allowed until at least June 15.
The governor is allowing high school and college graduations to go forward, but only if indoor ceremonies are limited to 10 people at a time. Outdoor ceremonies are allowed, either with people 6 feet apart in a large space or as “drive-through” events in which families drive up to a stage, the graduate gets out, walks across and gets back into a car.
The changes mean that public gatherings of up to 30 people won’t be allowed until June 1, and gatherings of up to 90 people won’t be allowed until June 15. The last restrictions wouldn’t be lifted until June 29 — two weeks later than previously planned.
Top Republican legislators already have moved aggressively to take control of the reopening by extending a disaster declaration Kelly issued only through Memorial Day, May 25, to give lawmakers a chance to rewrite their own law guiding the process. State law gives Kelly broad power under an emergency declaration, and she had wanted the current one extended into mid-June.
The full Legislature has been on an extended annual spring break since March 20 because of the coronavirus pandemic. It plans to reconvene for one last day in session this year on May 21.
Kelly’s order came after the state Senate Commerce Committee heard testimony Thursday from jobless Kansas residents who have had trouble getting their unemployment claims processed.
“It looks to me like the governor spent a lot of time developing new ways to randomly restrict certain businesses and not others and created yet another confusing document for us to all try to figure out,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, another Wichita Republican and a U.S. Senate candidate.