TOPEKA (KSNT) — Kansas lawmakers are moving forward with plans to challenge President Biden’s federal vaccine mandate. Gov. Laura Kelly called for a special session to happen on Friday, solidifying plans for lawmakers to come back early after a majority vote by all GOP lawmakers.
The state’s Special Committee on Government Overreach and Impact of COVID-19 Mandates also approved of three bills, which will be brought to the floor for debate. Lawmakers swiftly approved of two bills that were introduced by Sen. President Ty Masterson. One bill is a “religious freedom” bill. The proposal would allow employees to submit a written waiver request to employers requiring the mandate under certain conditions. It would also allow employees to bring a civil action to employers over damages brought on by such a violation. The second bill would guarantee unemployment benefits for those laid off due to the vaccine mandate.
Lawmakers also signed off on a proposal by Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, to allow workers who are forced to be vaccinated to be able to sue their employers for damages if the vaccine causes health problems later on or if they are subjected to penalties for refusing shots.
“I agree with Gov. Kelly that President Biden’s mandate is not the right way to go,” Rep. Miller told Kansas Capitol Bureau.
The final proposals came after a round of public testimony during the committee meeting Friday. Kansans from across the state came to the state’s capitol to express concerns over the mandate and with the hope of finding a solution.
“This is simply a question of right versus wrong, good vs. evil. Either you stand against Biden, or you stand with him,” said Gary Morgan, a proponent of the bills.
Morgan was one of many Kansans that came to vent their frustrations over the federal mandate and what it could mean for thousands of workers in the state.
Several proponents urged lawmakers to update the language in the bill to include a “conscientious exemption,” arguing that a religious or medical exemption is not enough for workers that do not qualify under either.
“The easiest way to address this would be to add a conscientious objection clause. Thereby protecting the right to object for any reason,” said Tom Salt from the KC-Metro area.
Others spoke against the proposals. Business leaders argued that changes extending unemployment benefits to workers impacted by the requirement could lead to a spike in taxes for employers, who are stuck having to carry the cost.
Eric Stafford, a representative for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, told the panel of legislators that businesses have been put in a tough spot with the Biden administration’s order.
“We ask that you not punish us in the business community for only carrying out what the federal government is trying to carry out,” Stafford said.
Michael Poppa with the Mainstream Coalition, a nonprofit organization, also spoke as an opponent of the proposals Friday afternoon. Poppa said that he doesn’t believe in combining “Church and State.”
“This bill circumvents a private employer’s rights to protect their staff from a public health crisis and endangers their livelihood by creating undue hardships to accommodate unvaccinated individuals,” Poppa said.
Issues stemming from the President’s vaccine mandate are gaining support on both sides of the aisle. Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature said they’re working together to find a solution that’s right for Kansas.
Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, said it’s “possible” that legislators will come to an agreement.
“The devil’s always in the details, so we’ll have to wait until we have the bill, and everybody will review that and cast their votes.”