Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signs special session bill allowing unvaccinated workers to keep jobs

By: - November 23, 2021 3:39 pm

Gov. Laura Kelly walks away from reporters Tuesday following the annual delivery of a Christmas tree to the governor’s mansion in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday signed legislation passed during a special session the day before, clearing the way for unvaccinated workers to keep their jobs in the face of federal mandates.

The bill crafted by GOP leaders in the Legislature provides for unquestioned moral, religious and medical exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine requirements and ensures unemployment compensation for anyone who is fired because of their vaccine status anyway. Businesses risk up to $50,000 fines for refusing to accept an exemption.

Lawmakers forced the special session in response to President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates for federal employees and contractors, medical workers, and private businesses with 100 or more employees.

“I have been clear that I believe it is too late to impose a federal standard,” Kelly said in a statement. “States have been leading the fight against COVID-19 for nearly two years. I know there are Kansans who believe this legislation goes too far, and there are others who believe this legislation doesn’t go far enough. But I was elected to lead, and leadership means seeking compromise.”

The Democratic governor had issued a statement late Monday, before lawmakers voted on the bill, pledging to sign it. Democrats in the Legislature opposed the legislation, warning that it would have little effect and could be struck down in court.

“This bill is the result of compromise in action,” Kelly said. “Now that it is signed, we need to turn our attention toward pressing issues, like growing our economy and passing my plan to axe the food tax, so we can put money back into everyday Kansans’ pockets.”

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said the legislation protects the rights of Kansans who faced deadlines in December and January that would have forced them to choose between their livelihoods and religious freedom.

“Many of these Kansans are our front-line heroes in the health care industry or have been in their jobs for decades, and today we took direct action on their behalf,” Masterson said at the close of the special session. “The bill we passed today prevents Joe Biden from forcing businesses into the position of playing God or doctor. It prevents Joe Biden from not allowing people to provide for their own families. It says in no uncertain terms that Kansas legislators will stand for the religious freedom of Kansans.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.