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Kansas Expects Protests; Governor Limits Statehouse Access

J. Schafer
KPR/File photo

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly is restricting access to the Kansas Statehouse due to the possibility of an armed protest, telling state lawmakers Thursday that an event is planned for Sunday with “other potential gatherings” next week.

The Democratic governor's chief of staff, Will Lawrence, sent a memo Thursday to the Republican-controlled Legislature's top Republican and Democratic leaders announcing that access to the building will be restricted from Friday through Jan. 22. The memo said there will be an increased law enforcement presence at the Statehouse.

The memo did not say what groups were planning protests or other events.

The security preparations came in response to last week’s insurrection in Washington, D.C., in which a violent mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and interrupted Congress’ certification of his election loss.

The FBI has since warned about the potential for armed protests by Trump loyalists in Washington and at state capitols ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday.

“In Kansas, we have information that there is an event planned for 12:00 noon on January 17, 2021,” Lawrence's memo said. “There are also other potential gatherings scheduled for next week including Wednesday, January 20, 2021.”

Kelly and the legislative leaders held a private, half-hour virtual security briefing Thursday morning with the Kansas Highway Patrol and the state Adjutant General's Department. Legislators who participated have revealed little about what they heard because it involved security matters.

Lawrence's memo said access to the Statehouse would be limited to “only those having business before the Legislature and the governor's office." People entering the building will be vetted and will need to provide an email indicating they have a meeting or are providing testimony before a legislative committee.

The memo said virtual meetings are “strongly encouraged." The Legislature spent $3 million on technology upgrades in recent weeks to allow live audio and video streaming of meetings and remote participation, though lawmakers have complained that the technology has proven balky at times.

The memo said the Statehouse garage will be closed, allowing access only with a special security pass. People with a pass will be allowed to come into the building through one entrance.

“Law enforcement presence has been and will continue to be increased throughout this time,” the memo said.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, said in an email to colleagues that officers will be stationed at each door on the first and second floors of the Statehouse.

Some lawmakers have questioned whether problems are likely. Trump carried the state by a wide margin in last year’s election and a peaceful protest of about 200 people took place at the Statehouse last week on the same day Washington saw mob violence.

Kelly told reporters Wednesday that the state would “keep a close eye on” any potential armed protest and would step up security “as necessary.” But she declined to discuss details.

State Sen. Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat, said she will probably work remotely next week. Before the memo was issued, she had expressed frustration with the lack of information about security plans, saying she hadn’t noticed any security enhancements.

After reading the memo, she said: “I feel better. Still concerned though, because I know there are threats out there that are unspecified.”

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said before the memo became public that he was comfortable if officials wanted an increased security presence at the Statehouse.

“The nut jobs, if you will, are generally deterred by just the presence,” Masterson said.