TOPEKA – (June 8, 2020) – Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt today issued the following statement on the signing into law of 2020 Special Session House Bill 2016 (HB 2016), the COVID-19 response bill enacted by the Legislature in special session last week:
“The legislation signed into law today permanently decriminalizes violations of governors’ emergency orders. I commend the Kansas Legislature and the Governor for enacting this important change, and I am grateful for all Kansans who knew and insisted it is possible to have a safe and effective response to public emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic without the government threatening to arrest citizens for exercising basic liberties.
“No longer may Kansans be threatened with arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for going to work to earn a living, leaving their homes without government permission or gathering at church to worship. Nor will law enforcement officers throughout our state any longer face the untenable burden of determining whether any particular emergency order is ‘lawful’ and thus the basis for arresting a citizen. To be sure, a governor’s lawful emergency orders are still enforceable, but now an impartial judge in a civil, not criminal, proceeding must approve the state’s enforcement actions before the liberties of citizens may be disturbed by the government.”
Under Section 36 of HB 2016, criminal penalties for violating a governor’s emergency orders are replaced with a civil enforcement action. There could be no arrest before a person accused of violating a governor’s order has his or her day in court, and people accused of violating a governor’s emergency orders would have the opportunity to challenge the validity of that order before a judge. This significant change addresses many of the legal concerns identified May 20 in Attorney General Opinion 2020-6. The bill was signed into law today and will take effect when published in the Kansas Register.