Federal judge sides with Kansas AG, blocks enforcement of vaccine mandate for federal contractors

By: - December 7, 2021 6:00 pm

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, seen participating in a Kansas Reflector podcast, denounces the idea of leaning on government mask or vaccination mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A federal judge in Georgia issued a temporary injunction Tuesday blocking requirements for employees of federal contractors get vaccinated from COVID-19.

The ruling comes in a lawsuit from a coalition of seven states, including Kansas, that challenged whether President Joe Biden’s executive order for federal employees could be extended to private contractors.

U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, said the executive order “goes far beyond addressing administrative and management issues in order to promote efficiency and economy in procurement and contracting, and instead, in application, works as a regulation of public health,” which exceeds federal authority.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who also joined separate lawsuits challenging vaccine mandates for large employers and health care workers, said the ruling is the latest example of a federal court recognizing that “overreaching, one-size-fits-all mandates from the Biden administration are unlawful.”

“I continue to encourage Kansans to be vaccinated, but that personal health care decision should be made by each individual and not mandated by the federal government,” Schmidt said.

As of Tuesday, 55.3% of the Kansas population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes 67.3% of adults. Those numbers lag behind national averages, with 60.1% of Americans and 71.6% of American adults fully vaccinated.

New cases of COVID-19 have skyrocketed in Kansas in recent weeks, to levels not recorded in January. The virus has killed more than 6,700 Kansans since the start of the pandemic, including 57 new deaths reported just this month by the Kansas Department for Health and Environment.

The impact of federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates already had been blunted by a new state law the Legislature passed during a one-day special session shortly before Thanksgiving.

All of the federal rules include exemptions for health needs, disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs. The new state law, which Gov. Laura Kelly quickly signed, bans employers from questioning the sincerity of religious beliefs. The law also expands the definition of religious beliefs to include moral objections.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas said in a statement after Tuesday’s ruling that it would put on hold efforts to comply with the federal COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees. The health insurance provider is considered to be a federal contractor.

“As a healthcare company, health and well-being is our No. 1 priority,” the statement said. “We still encourage our employees and all Kansans to receive the vaccine as a way to protect themselves from the virus.”

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the national vaccination rates.

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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.