Hays police and Ellis County sheriff’s deputies will try to educate violators rather than arrest them when it comes to Gov. Laura Kelly’s stay-at-home order.
That’s the word from Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees, who said Monday that the hope is to avoid prosecution.
Local police and deputies met with Drees Thursday and asked him to draw up an explanation of the governor’s legal authority as a hand-out for officers to give the public.
"We had some questions from people suggesting that the governor doesn’t have the authority to do a stay-at-home order," Drees said Monday evening after the Ellis County Commission meeting in the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.
"A few callers were suggesting that the governor did not have the authority to issue the executive order and that the executive order does not have the same force and effect of law," he said. "Well it does."
Violating the stay-at-home order is a Class A misdemeanor, which can be punished with a fine of up to $2,500 and a stay in the county jail of up to a year.
"It’s about education for us," said Ellis County Undersheriff Scott Braun, also at the meeting. "We’ll make contact with them if we receive complaints or concerns. Then we will lay out what the law says, providing the declaration from the governor, so they can read it, and we’ll try and help them understand that. It’s a tough time, and we understand that. If we can work with them, and make them understand, it’s better."
Braun said the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t seen any violations in the county, where there are few establishments.
Hays Police received calls about a local gym staying open to its members, Drees said.
"There was education with that business owner," he said. "They agreed with the chief to close down operations to the public."
As far as he knows, there haven’t been problems with bars or restaurants.
"Most people have been compliant," Drees said. "We’re all in this together, we’re all needing to do what’s best for all of society."
Heated disagreement surfaced last week on Facebook’s "You know you’re from Ellis County if…" page, about golf courses staying open.
The city of Hays closed its city-owned Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course on March 30, shortly after one of the first warm days of spring drew parking-lots-full of golfers to the course, and about the same time it closed playground equipment in the parks.
With pressure to reopen, the city later reconsidered, making some changes, including bumpers around the holes so golfers know they made their putt without the ball going in the hole. The city reopened the course April 3 with new rules.
Drees said the course is now in compliance with the governor’s orders that limit gatherings to fewer than 10, allow outdoor exercise, and require social distancing.
"The golf course is certainly outside, and it would be pretty easy to keep a six-foot distance," Drees said. "They’ve put bumpers around the stick, so once your ball hits the bumper, you’re done. So there is no reaching into the holes anymore, and there’s no removing of the sticks. So you handle your ball, you handle your equipment, don’t touch anybody else’s, stay six feet apart."
The city also limits golf carts to one person, except people living in the same household.
The new posted rules require social distancing, limit gatherings to 10 or fewer, and limit tee times to groups of four or less at 10-minute intervals. All tournaments have been postponed, and only one person is allowed in the Pro-Shop at a time to use the bathroom. Contact with the maintenance crew is strictly prohibited, according to the city.
"If these rules are not followed the course will be closed," the city rules state.
"There’s ways to be in compliance," Drees said. "And that’s what we want to do is make sure everyone is in compliance. At the end of the day it’s about the safety of the public, and everybody doing their part to maintain health and safety."
Drees explained that county and state health officers have the authority to quarantine or isolate anyone with COVID-19 or any other infectious disease under the Kansas Infectious Disease Control Act.
"They can issue restrictive orders concerning monitoring and controlling COVID 19, or any other contagious disease for that matter," he said.
Anyone who violates isolation or quarantine, or knowingly conceals an infectious disease, can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor. That carries a fine up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail, he said.
"That does not take an executive order, that’s all the time," Drees said. "That’s always in effect."
Anyone with a concern about a possible violation can call the dispatch non-emergency number, 785-625-1011, Braun said.
Law enforcement will go on the call, talk with the individual, determine if they are in or out of compliance, and give them the information.
"And hopefully they will voluntarily comply," Braun said. "We think it’s more of an educational process at this point, as the best way to handle this."