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Kansas Supreme Court Will Hear Coronavirus Case Saturday

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Stephen Koranda
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Kansas News Service/File photo

The Kansas Supreme Court is set to convene Saturday for the first time ever via video conference to hear arguments on Gov. Laura Kellys lawsuit against legislative leaders who overturned her executive order banning religious and funeral services of more than 10 attendees during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democratic governor filed the lawsuit Thursday after a Republican-dominated legislative panel overturned her order.

Kelly and the panel generally agree that worshipers should stay home and watch livestreamed religious services during the pandemic, but they disagree on whether the state has the constitutional authority to order it. Many churches have been conducting services online for weeks, and none have publicly announced plans to meet in person.

Republican Senate President Susan Wagle defended the vote in a written statement. She noted that Attorney General Derek Schmidt, also a Republican, said that although Kellys order was sound public-health advice, he was discouraging law enforcement agencies and prosecutors from attempting to enforce the requirements, citing the constitutional concerns.

Governor Kelly is playing politics with this lawsuit," said Wagle, who also is a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat Republican Pat Roberts is vacating.

Kelly also blamed politics, tweeting Friday, We must put aside political games and do whats necessary to save lives."

The arguments will be broadcast over YouTube. Besides being the first hearing conducted completely via video conference, it also may be the courts first-ever Saturday hearing, said Kansas Supreme Court spokeswoman Lisa Taylor.

The pandemic has caused the judicial branch to look at many of its operations because we have a duty to provide essential services to the people of Kansas, Taylor said.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state grew by 60 on Thursday, to 1,106. Kansas reported four more deaths, bringing the total to 42.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

In instituting the now-overturned order, Kelly said three religious gatherings had led to outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

One of the church clusters was a ministers conference in Wyandotte County last month. The county has issued a new order discouraging gatherings of any size, but requiring that during in-person religious gatherings, individuals must remain in their vehicles and that materials, such as communion, should not be passed around or shared, The Kansas City Star reported.

Another occurred in Sedgwick County, said Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Norman hasnt divulged information about the third.

With the state order revoked, a local order in Sedgwick County is back in effect, Sedgwick County officials said. It does not have an exemption for churches, synagogues, mosques, temples or other religious institutions.

This order specifically limits all public gatherings to groups of 10 or fewer people, including in-person religious services, county spokeswoman Kate Flavin said in a statement.