Gov. Laura Kelly encouraged Democratic legislators to participate in the special committee formed by Republican House and Senate leaders to consider formal responses to federal vaccination mandates and requirements for wearing masks during COVID-19 pandemic. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly urged Democratic state legislators to participate in deliberations of the special committee created by Republican legislative leaders to review the constitutionality of federal vaccination mandates and local mask directives tied to the pandemic.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, and Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, formed the Special Joint Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates in early October. They were inspired by President Joe Biden’s announcement of vaccination requirements for large employers and people working for the federal government.
The new committee, which hasn’t yet met, also was a response to demands from some GOP lawmakers for a special legislative session to push back against government pandemic edicts. COVID-19 has been a factor in the death of more than 6,100 Kansans since March 2020.
Kelly, a Democrat up for re-election in 2022, said even legislators skeptical of the special committee ought to be involved in the public meetings or participate in weighing recommendations.
“I believe when you are offered a seat at the table, you ought to take it, because you ought to be there to at least see what’s going on,” the governor said during an interview Wednesday. “It might be attractive to just say, ‘It’s silly and so I won’t participate.’ I think it’s probably better to go ahead and bring yourself to the table and be part of the process.”
Development of the special committee was endorsed by the Legislative Coordinating Council along party lines. It was decided the panel would have six members from the House and five members from the Senate.
In addition to considering vaccination mandates on large U.S. employers, federal contractors and health workers, the special committee was tasked with exploring directives related to wearing face coverings and requiring proof of vaccination. The GOP-led committee was asked to draft “constitutionally proper” responses to mandates that would “preserve local control, state autonomy and ensure adequate safeguards for the freedom of all Kansans.”
Masterson appointed himself along with Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita; Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee; and Sen. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood. Each of the GOP senators on the panel have been critics of Kelly’s leadership during the pandemic. Warren is seeking the GOP nomination in 2022 for Kansas attorney general.
“Kansans impacted by these mandates expect us to take real action in defense of their liberty and freedom, and this special joint committee is a necessary and critical step in that process,” Masterson said.
In the House, Ryckman named Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita; as well as Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene; Rep. Stephen Owens, R-Hesston; and Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell.
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, appointed two attorneys to the special committee — Rep. John Carmichael of Wichita and Rep. Vic Miller of Topeka. The Senate’s Democratic member on the panel will be Sen. Pat Pettey, of Kansas City, Kansas.
Sawyer said work of the committee ought to be broad enough to include debate about expanding Medicaid services to thousands of Kansans.
“We should utilize the committee to find commonsense solutions, not further politicize basic health and safety measures,” he said. “Public health over politics is the way to go.”
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