Kansas Republicans force special session to deal with federal vaccine mandates

By: - November 11, 2021 5:13 pm

Sen. Renee Erickson, chairwoman of a special committee on government overreach, presides over Tuesday’s meeting. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Republican leaders announced Thursday they had gathered the signatures necessary to force a special session for the week of Thanksgiving to respond to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Every Republican in both the Senate and House signed the petition, providing the two-thirds needed in each chamber. Leadership said they would deliver the petitions to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday.

The special session will start Nov. 22.

“This is a historic moment as the Legislature calls itself back into a special session for the first time in the history of our state,” House Republicans said in a statement. “This unprecedented action is necessitated by equally unprecedented actions from the Biden administration that enacted these mandates unilaterally, without respecting the constitutional law making power reserved for Congress. Never before has the federal government forced Kansans to choose between their personal beliefs and their livelihoods.”

Kelly, who is seeking re-election, opposes the federal mandates. Her likely opponent in next year’s election, Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, has joined three separate lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of federal mandates.

A special committee on “government overreach” held two days of hearings last month to gather public input on the mandates, limiting comments to those who oppose them. The hearings were rife with false information about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, and Holocaust comparisons. Dissenting views were limited to written testimony that hasn’t been made public.

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Earlier this week, the committee received an update on various legal challenges to orders and rules that require federal workers, as well as employees of federal contractors, large businesses and Medicaid and Medicare providers, to be vaccinated. Employees of private businesses would have the alternate option of weekly testing. All of the mandates provide exemptions for medical needs, disabilities and sincerely held religious beliefs.

The committee will hold hearings Friday on two bills drafted by Senate President Ty Masterson. One would prohibit employers from questioning the sincerity of a worker’s religious beliefs or medical needs, and the other would provide unemployment aid to individuals who are fired for refusing to get vaccinated.

Masterson said the intent is to pass both laws during the special session.

“The right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience shall never be infringed — that’s a part of our Kansas Constitution,” Masterson said. “It’s also why we have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, and that includes religious tests where one’s beliefs are scrutinized, either by the government or an employer.

“We’re not going to let the Biden administration force businesses to play God or doctor and determine whether a religious or medical exemption is valid or not. We’re going to trust individual Kansans.”

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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.