Kansas governor, attorney general both oppose federal vaccine mandate

By: - November 5, 2021 10:11 am
The Kansas Farm Bureau's PAC endorses Republican Derek Schmidt in the 2022 governor's race after declining to endorse the GOP gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach in 2018. The Democratic Party's frontrunner is Gov. Laura Kelly. (Photos by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Farm Bureau’s PAC endorses Republican Derek Schmidt in the 2022 governor’s race after declining to endorse the GOP gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach in 2018. The Democratic Party’s frontrunner is Gov. Laura Kelly. (Photos by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The two prominent candidates for governor in next year’s election share at least one political stance.

They both say President Joe Biden’s latest COVID-19 vaccine mandate is bad for Kansas.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt have issued statements objecting to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new policy requiring private businesses with at least 100 employees to ensure workers are vaccinated or submit to weekly testing and wear a face covering.

Schmidt’s opposition to the mandate was expected. Last week, he joined a lawsuit opposing Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors. In testimony before the Legislature’s government overreach committee, he indicated he would oppose future mandates as well.

On Friday, Schmidt joined a lawsuit in response to the OSHA policy. A spokesman for his campaign said Schmidt still intends to file a third lawsuit over a new Medicaid and Medicare rule that requires nursing home staff to be vaccinated against the deadly virus.

Schmidt said the mandate for private businesses would cause more disruptions in supply chains.

“Nothing in federal law gives OSHA this kind of far-reaching authority,” Schmidt said. “Businesses that do not comply would be subject to steep fines. And to make matters worse, state and federal governments have just announced they will stop paying the cost of testing for businesses, shifting that cost onto businesses themselves.”

Kelly responded by saying she shares a goal with the president of keeping safe but doesn’t believe the directive is “the correct, or the most effective, solution for Kansas.”

“States have been leading the fight against COVID-19 from the start of the pandemic,” Kelly said. “It is too late to impose a federal standard now that we have already developed systems and strategies that are tailored for our specific needs. I will seek a resolution that continues to recognize the uniqueness of our state and builds on our on-going efforts to combat a once-in-a-century crisis.”

CJ Grover, a spokesman for Schmidt’s campaign, questioned Kelly’s decision to oppose the mandate only after it was formalized, and after Tuesday’s elections.

“Kansans are smart and can see which candidate is acting on principle defending their livelihood and which is making a desperate political ploy to save her own job,” Grover said.

COVID-19 has killed more than 6,400 Kansans and hospitalized more than 15,000 since the start of the pandemic. As of Wednesday, the Kansas Department for Health and Environment was tracking 164 active outbreaks across the state — including 10 with at least five infections connected to long-term care facilities, three at private businesses, and five at public and private schools.

The safe and effective vaccines are available for free, but just 53.4% of the state population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes 63.5% of Kansans ages 12 and older, and 65.5% of adults.

Nationwide, 67% of the population is fully vaccinated, including 78.4% of Americans 12 and older and 80.3% of adults.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.