TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators are pushing to keep in place specific rules for tracing the close contacts of people exposed to COVID-19 despite public health groups' opposition.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill making limits on COVID-19 contact tracing permanent, rather than repealing them May 1. The GOP-controlled Legislature approved the rules last year at Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt's request. He argued that they protect the privacy of infected people and prevent information about them from becoming public.

The committee's voice vote Friday sent the measure next to the full Senate. It applies only to COVID-19 and not other diseases, and a key provision prevents people exposed to the novel coronavirus from being forced to disclose their close contacts. It also says people can't face criminal charges or civil lawsuits for refusing.

“It's a small change we are addressing while we are in session, keeping privacy protections in place,” said Committee Chair Kellie Warren, a Lenexa Republican.

But public health officials have said the rules hinder contact tracing, and two public health associations told the Senate committee that it makes no sense to have different rules for COVID-19 and all other diseases.

“Let health care professionals have all the tools in the chest they need,” said Democratic Sen. David Haley, of Kansas City, Kansas.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter: