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‘They have overstepped some major privacy bounds’: Kansas lawmakers debate federal vaccine mandate

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TOPEKA (KSNT) – Kansas lawmakers met at the statehouse Friday to debate President Biden’s upcoming vaccine mandate, as part of the latest Republican-led effort to root out what some are calling “government overreach.”

The state’s Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 vaccine mandates held the first of a series of meetings, hearing from the public and different state agencies on concerns over mandating vaccines.

Republican Senator Renee Erickson from Wichita, who is chair of the committee, said she “respects individual rights and freedoms.”

“I believe if you want to get the vaccine, you should get the vaccine, and if you don’t, you shouldn’t be forced to,” Sen. Erickson said.

Kansas Representative Vic Miller, D-Topeka, asks questions during the Government Overreach Committee meeting

However, some democrats that sit on the committee have been outspoken about their support for the federal mandate, hoping that more people will get vaccinated.

Representative Vic Miller, D-Topeka, said that there have been state mandates in place for vaccines fighting other diseases, which are usually requirements for kids to attend school. Miller said he doesn’t understand the “difference between [vaccines] widely accepted over time” and the coronavirus vaccine.

“If we merely leave it up to individuals to decide whether they’re going to act responsibly or not, unfortunately, there’s too many that won’t act responsibly,” he said.

Public universities in Kansas are the latest to feel the pressure. Just last week, three state universities (Wichita State, K-State, and KU) announced that they will now be requiring coronavirus vaccinations for all employees. According to a spokesperson for the Kansas Board of Regents, KBOR, the universities “determined that they have federal contracts that are critical to their missions.”

Representative Stephen Owens, R-Hesston, says the list of proposed religious exemption questions is “intrusive” during the hearing.

KBOR President Blake Flanders spoke with lawmakers during the meeting. Republican lawmakers criticized some of the questions proposed by certain universities for getting a religious exemption. Representative Stephen Owens, R-Hesston, noted that the questions for KU and K-State seemed “intrusive.”

“‘Have I received any other vaccines?’ ‘If you have then why didn’t those apply?’ and on…and on…and on,” Rep. Owens listed.

Representative Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said that that it would be something for the committee to “take a look at.”

“I think they have actually overstepped some major privacy bounds,” Rep. Landwehr said.

Senator Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, hears from lawmakers and the public on concerns over federal coronavirus vaccine mandates

Another major item on the table was the conflicting state law, banning vaccine passports, which doesn’t fall in line with the federal mandate. Legislative revisers noted that some universities may be in a position, where they have to “choose” to comply with state or federal law, which has been the case for the universities with federal contracts. Revisers said it is likely the federal government has authority to require federal employees in Kansas to be vaccinated as an employment condition, but the further reach of the mandate may be subject to legal challenge.

Lawmakers discussed the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which establishes that federal law generally takes precedence over state laws.

“There is precedent, but we are in unchartered waters, and so I think that remains to be seen,” said Sen. Erickson.

Representative Miller said “nuances” of the issue will have to be dealt with in court.

“As a state, we have to be careful about the legislation we pass and make sure it is within federal law as well as state statute.”

To watch the full meeting, click here.

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