Kansas activists opposed to COVID-19 mandates greet legislators with rally at Capitol

Chants of ‘pass the freedom bills’ and ‘stop medical tyranny’ echoed through statehouse

By: and - April 25, 2022 12:37 pm
Rep. Tatum Lee, R-Ness City, said she was honored to join Monday anti-vax activists at the Kansas Capitol to press for bills limiting local and state government authority during disaster emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been linked to the death of 8,597 people since early 2020. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Tatum Lee, R-Ness City, said she was honored to join Monday anti-vax activists at the Kansas Capitol to press for bills limiting local and state government authority during disaster emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been linked to the death of 8,597 people since early 2020. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Rep. Tatum Lee and Sen. Mark Steffen heartily embraced anti-vax activists Monday at the Capitol ahead of the Legislature’s consideration of limited-government policy tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and potential overrides of a cluster of vetoes issued by Gov. Laura Kelly.

The plan was for the House and Senate to devote the day to weighing bills left unfinished when lawmakers adjourned for a three-week break. The list includes bills on K-12 education budget, the final state budget package, reform of the state’s 6.5% sales tax on groceries, legalization of sports wagering and a sweeping bill approved by the Senate but not the House that would tackle libertarians’ objections to COVID-19 directives.

On Tuesday, legislative leadership wants to dive into override votes on a transgender sports ban on girls and women athletes, a parental bill of rights for public education, a ban on municipal government limits on single-use plastic, expansion of short-term health plans and new limits on access to food stamps.

Lee, a Ness City Republican not averse to criticizing GOP leadership, lauded the group affiliated with Kansans for Health Freedom who pressed their case for a trio of bills that haven’t cleared the Legislature. She demanded House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, allow each to be adopted by the House.

“Ron Ryckman, you better get these bills passed,” said Lee, who alleged backroom deals were being hatched as she spoke to the protesters. “Thank you so much for caring, standing and participating. None of this is worth it unless we’re standing together.”

The anti-vax coalition demanded  passage of House Bill 2280 opening the door to treatments not fully endorsed by federal regulators, Senate Bill 489 inhibiting ability of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and local government health directors to issue pandemic orders and Senate Bill 541 prohibiting directives on vaccination passports, facial coverings, contract tracing, church attendance and student vaccinations.

Steffen, a Republican from the Hutchinson area who has been under scrutiny by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, said House Bill 2280 wasn’t dead but was on life support.

“Is the light growing dim? Well, yes, but it is on everything,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. It’s time to try harder.”

Sen. Mark Steffen says in a speech to anti-vaxxers Monday at the Statehouse that the Kansas Board of Healing Arts “created suffering and death” during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Steffen said the board regulating physicians in Kansas, such as himself, had to be changed to prevent the heavy “corporate doctor” influence on the board. The KBHA should be more respectful of physicians such as himself who advocate off-label drug treatments for COVID-19 not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“The Kansas Board of Healing Arts has to be reorganized. It has to be,” Steffen said. “the associations — Kansas Medical Society, chiropractic society, osteopathic society — they are the ones that are picking the board members. They don’t pick a group of doctors to represent true Kansans. They pick corporate doctors. They’re not picking the average Joe doctor like myself. That has to change.”

He said the regulatory scrutiny of doctors not in the medical mainstream blunted early treatment of COVID-19 and “created suffering and death for people with cancers.”

“So, let’s keep our head down. Let’s keep charging forward. Let’s hold people accountable. Let’s stand for the truth. Let’s make this state better. Let’s make this country better,” Steffen said.

Anti-vaxxers pray during a gathering Monday at the rotunda in the Statehouse. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The crowd created funnels of protesters outside the House and Senate chambers that legislators had to walk through. They hoisted signs that read: “We the people want health freedom,” “Let doctors save lives” and “Do what’s right for Kansans.” They chanted “pass the House freedom bills” and “stop medical tyranny.”

At the request of Mike Brown, a GOP candidate for secretary of state, said he lost his seat on the Johnson County Commission in 2020  because he was such an intense champion for people who didn’t want to bend a knee to government during the pandemic. At his urging, the anti-vax activists chanted “U! S! A! U! S! A!” loud enough to satisfy his sense that they had been heard through the five-floor statehouse.

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said he was focused on Senate Bill 541, which was approved by the Senate 24-14 but not taken up by the House. Apparently, House negotiators won’t agree to meet for discussion of the Senate’s work on the bill.

The board bill would limit cities responding to infectious diseases to issuance of 30-day ordinances that limited the size of gatherings, restricted operation of businesses or controlled movement of people. Anyone harmed by such local government orders to file a lawsuit that would be heard by a judge within 72 hours. No school or educational institution could issue vaccination documents or separate students based on vaccination status. Violation of provisions in the bill would be a misdemeanor crime.

In addition, the bill would forbid mask mandates, restrictions on religious liberty and would declare children enrolling in daycare facilities or schools would be exempt from immunizations if required by the KDHE secretary based on a written statement signed by a parent or guardian outlining a “sincerely held religious belief.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.