Kansas Senate health panel endorses vaccine opt-out for school kids, ivermectin prescriptions

By: - March 17, 2022 1:18 pm

Sen. Kristen O’Shea, center, unsuccessfully tried to amend legislation and remove language allowing children to opt out of any kind of vaccine that is required for school or daycare attendance. Also pictured are Sen. Pat Pettey and Sen. Mike Thompson. (March 8, 2022, photo by Sherman Smith)

TOPEKA — Sen. Kristen O’Shea on Thursday pointed to a sequence of events in which one of her Republican colleagues flipped his vote on a veto override of a congressional map hours after a Senate health panel endorsed an easy out for childhood vaccine requirements.

O’Shea, a Topeka Republican, unsuccessfully tried to convince members of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee to remove the vaccine exemption from House Bill 2280.

“We all know the events that transpired the day this was added, and so do we as a committee want to vote and encourage that?” O’Shea said.

Sen. Mark Steffen, a Hutchinson Republican who had flip-flopped on the veto override, and other Republicans on the committee voted down O’Shea’s proposal.

The committee then adopted the legislation, which also gives doctors the authority to prescribe ineffective treatments for COVID-19 without fear of discipline.

Steffen, an anesthesiologist, revealed earlier this session that he was under investigation by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts after prescribing ivermectin to COVID-19 patients. Peer-reviewed blind clinical trials have repeatedly confirmed that ivermectin provides no benefit for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.

Steffen proposed legislation that allows doctors to prescribe ivermectin and other drugs for off-label use without being punished by the Board of Healing Arts. The legislation also makes it illegal for a pharmacist to refuse to fill a prescription on the sole basis that a particular drug shouldn’t be used to treat COVID-19. The committee removed a retroactive provision of the law that would have cleared Steffen.

That legislation was bundled with another Steffen proposal that broadens an existing religious exemption for any kind of vaccine that is required for attendance at schools and daycare. The exemption would include philosophical objections and can’t be questioned by administrators.

Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, said the attempt by O’Shea to remove the easy out for vaccine requirements “would eviscerate the meat of this bill.”

The committee also adopted a plan to require state officials to conduct a medical exam following reports of child abuse, and removed all but one section of a bill aimed at reducing access to federal food and medical assistance for low-income Kansans on behalf of the Florida-based Opportunity Solutions Project.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, said Senate Bill 460 is necessary because when child abuse goes unchecked, it tends to increase and become more dangerous. The bill requires the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to review cases of abuse or neglect.

“We need it because (the Department for Children and Families) isn’t doing it,” Baumgardner said. “We continue to have reports of abuse that go unchecked.”

Steffen questioned whether an additional “layer of bureaucracy” would make a difference.

“In medicine, you know, second opinions really aren’t any better than the first opinions,” Steffen said. “They’re just another person’s opinion. Nobody wants a child to be abused, and nobody wants that to be missed. Second opinions can be obtained whether we pass this bill or not.”

Baumgardner also introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 501 that removes proposed Medicaid restrictions, as well as costly reporting and investigation requirements. All that remains is a job training requirement for childless adults who receive money through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The requirement targets “able-bodied adults without dependents,” a small group of SNAP recipients that includes college students and children who are aging out of the foster care system. Currently, they are only encouraged to sign up for job training.

“This is very to me reasonable and common sense and good,” said Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita. “It’s good to try to encourage those folks that need help getting retrained and reenter the workforce to be productive. It feels it’s a win-win. It helps those folks get back on their feet and get to work and it helps our businesses.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 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. He is a lifelong Kansan.