Watch: Lawmakers hearing on two bills challenging vaccine mandates

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan (KSNT) — Kansas lawmakers are holding an informational hearing on two bills drafted for an upcoming special session challenging President Biden’s vaccine mandate.

Lawmakers met Friday morning at the statehouse to kick off the hearing. Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, introduced the two drafted bills this week. 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.

Both bills will be introduced during a special session planned for November 22. Republican leadership announced Thursday that all Republicans in both the House and Senate have signed the petition calling for lawmakers to come back early for a special session to get legislation passed. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has not yet spoken on the special session, but with the two-thirds majority needed in both chambers, it is likely to move forward.

Lawmakers are weighing religious exemptions for schools during the hearing. Concerns over changes to the state’s unemployment security law were also sparked shortly after the bill was introduced.

In a press release Tuesday, Kansas Chamber of Commerce President Alan Cobb expressed concerns over how the proposed legislation could impact businesses and the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund, which faced major setbacks during the pandemic.

According to the Chamber’s letter, based on current vaccination rates in Kansas, the state could expect to pay out $606 million to $5.6 billion dollars in unemployment benefits to those who lose their jobs because they refuse to follow a federal government mandate or an employer’s human resources policy.

Cobb said the Chamber is hoping to work with state lawmakers to reach an agreement.

“Kansas businesses by and large do not want to mandate the COVID-19 vaccination because they know it will negatively impact their workforce and compound the lack of available workers even more,” Cobb said. “Kansas businesses from the beginning of the pandemic have led the way on determining how to keep their facilities and operations safe. They continue to be the best ones to decide whether a vaccine mandate or wearing face masks are the correct approaches for their companies.” 

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