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Shawnee won’t enforce future county mask orders or vaccine rules

A man wearing a face mask walks past a sign requiring masks in Los Angeles on March 2.
Shawnee Mission Post
A sign at the door of the Shawnee Civic Center in July 2020 said masks were required in that facility. Shawnee will no longer enforce county health orders dealing with masks, vaccines and social distancing.

The city of Shawnee will not enforce future masking, vaccination and social distancing orders from Johnson County.

Nearly three years after the initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Shawnee has adopted new rules saying it will not enforce future Johnson County health orders having to do with masks, vaccines and social distancing.

In a 7-1 vote Monday, the city council took the unusual step of amending one section of the Uniform Public Offense Code, a ream of local rules recommended to Kansas cities annually by the League of Kansas Municipalities.

Councilmember Jill Chalfie cast the lone dissent.

In explaining his vote for the measure, Councilmember Tony Gillette said, “Hopefully the public realizes that we’re putting this decision out [there] for your own personal freedom.”

What the new rules mean

The amended code is now in effect but has no practical impact since there are no countywide pandemic-related health orders currently in place.

But the new language adopted by the council says the city will not enforce future health orders issued by the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, its leadership and the Board of Health that “[require] individuals or businesses to adhere to social distancing measures, the wearing of masks or other face coverings, and/or requiring vaccinations.”

The revised code also notes that under its home rule powers nothing should “prohibit or otherwise limit” Shawnee’s authority in enforcing its own rules.

Typically, cities — including Shawnee in the past — have adopted the League’s UPOC with little fanfare or public discussion.

This year, the council approached city attorney Jenny Smith about potentially amending the specific section of the UPOC pertaining to public health order violations.

The general UPOC rules, including this pandemic-related revision, will come back before the city council in the fall for full adoption.

Shawnee council member Tony Gillette, a man in glasses and a suit and tie, sits at a city council meeting.
Shawnee Mission Post
Council member Tony Gillette, who was first elected to the council in 2021. He supported a revision to uniform code that said Shawnee would not enforce future masking, social distancing and vaccination rules set in county health orders.

The revision approved Monday will not impact the enforcement of other types of health orders in Shawnee, including things like the county health department’s hypothetical closure of a restaurant or other establishment for health code violations, Smith, the city attorney, said.

Private businesses on their own could still choose to require masks, social distancing and vaccinations if they want to.

The revised code states, however, that the city will not penalize businesses that don’t follow pandemic-related county heath orders.

County law enforcement and other local agencies could still enforce future pandemic-related health orders within the city’s limits because they have jurisdiction.

Masking and other pandemic-era public health measures that health departments instituted in 2020 and 2021 were not always widely supported by Johnson County residents.

Smith noted that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Johnson County asked cities to help with enforcement of its mask rules, Shawnee opted not to participate, though at one point, masks were required in Shawnee City Hall.

The last pandemic-related countywide public health order, which required masks in K-6 schools, was lifted in February 2022

This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.

Kaylie McLaughlin covers Shawnee, Lenexa and USD 232 for the Shawnee Mission Post.
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