Kansas governor vetoes bill on child COVID-19 vaccines, authority of health officials

Republicans say they will revisit the bill during the next session

By: - May 12, 2023 5:38 pm

Gov. Laura Kelly said proposed legislation, which she vetoed, would pose a health risk to Kansans. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly shot down an anti-vaccination bill that would have blocked child COVID-19 vaccination requirements and stripped authority from public health officials, a move greeted with outrage from Republican leaders in the Legislature.

House Bill 2285, sent to Kelly’s desk in the last days of the legislative session, narrowly passed the House 63-56 and the Senate 22-18. The bill would ban state and county public health officials from issuing preventative measures — such as testing and quarantine — to halt the spread of infectious diseases.

“The field of public health was pioneered here in Kansas, yet lawmakers continue trying to undermine the advancements that have saved lives in every corner of our state,” Kelly said in a Friday veto announcement.

Under the legislation, health officers would no longer have authority to prohibit “public gatherings” in response to contagious diseases, or direct people to undergo treatment and preventative measures if exposed to infectious disease. Kansas Department of Health and Environment secretaries and local health officials could only make recommendations for disease prevention.

Proponents of the bill argued that personal freedom should come before public safety measures.

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said Kelly’s veto was proof of partisan politics.

“While the left is cheering today’s vetoes and the hold they have on this governor, it is certainly bad news for the vast majority of Kansans who expected her to keep her word to meet us in the middle,” Masterson said.

Another bill provision would block the state from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations of children in schools or daycare facilities. The bill also would require the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to conduct a study of overdose deaths in Kansas with an emphasis on the role of fentanyl poisoning.

Critics of the bill from both sides of the aisle said it posed a health risk and would lead to future infectious disease outbreaks.

“There’s no question: Preventing Kansas’ local and state health officials from providing even basic testing for contagious human and zoonotic diseases — including measles, meningitis, Ebola, and polio — will hurt our ability to stop unnecessary outbreaks in the future,” Kelly said.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, said he and fellow Republicans would bring the bill back next year.

“This bill would put the appropriate checks and balances with elected officials who answer directly to Kansas voters and return unelected health bureaucrats back into their intended advisory role,” Hawkins said. “Kansas House Republicans believe the voice of Kansas voters is an essential part of government and will revisit this issue in the 2024 Legislative Session.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.