Special session, three COVID-19 anti-mandatory laws get green light – Community News
Covid-19

Special session, three COVID-19 anti-mandatory laws get green light

TOPEKA (KSNT) — Kansas lawmakers are moving forward with plans to challenge President Biden’s federal vaccine mandate. Governor Laura Kelly called for a special session on Friday confirming plans for lawmakers to come back early after a majority vote by all GOP lawmakers.

The state’s special committee on the government’s reach and impact of COVID-19 mandates also approved three bills, which will be up for discussion. Lawmakers quickly passed two bills introduced by Senator President Ty Masterson. One bill is a “religious liberty” bill. The proposal would allow employees to submit a written waiver request to employers who demand the mandate under certain conditions. It would also allow employees to bring civil proceedings against employers for damages caused by such a violation. The second bill would guarantee unemployment benefits for those laid off because of the vaccine mandate.

Lawmakers have also approved a proposal from Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, to allow workers who are forced to be vaccinated to sue their employers for damages if the vaccine later causes health problems or if they are subject to penalties for refusing shots.

“I agree with Governor Kelly that President Biden’s mandate is not the right way forward,” Representative Miller told the Kansas Capitol Bureau.

The final proposals came after a round of public testimony at Friday’s committee meeting. Kansans from across the state flocked to the state capital to express concerns about the mandate and hope to find a solution.

“This is just a matter of good versus evil, good versus evil. Either you’re against Biden or you’re behind him,” said Gary Morgan, a supporter of the bills.

Morgan was one of many Kansans who came to express their frustrations about the federal mandate and what it could mean for thousands of workers in the state.

Several proponents urged lawmakers to update the text in the bill to include a “conscientious exemption”, arguing that a religious or medical exemption is not sufficient for employees not covered by either .

“The easiest way to deal with this is to add a conscientious objection clause. This protects the right to object for any reason,” said Tom Salt of the KC Metro area.

Others spoke out against the proposals. Company executives argued that changes that extend unemployment benefits to workers affected by the requirement could lead to a spike in taxes for employers, who are stuck and forced to bear the costs.

Eric Stafford, a representative for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, told the panel of lawmakers that businesses have been placed in a difficult position with the bid from the Biden administration.

“We ask that you do not punish us in business for doing what the federal government is trying to do,” Stafford said.

Michael Poppa of the Mainstream Coalition, a non-profit organization, also spoke out against the proposals on Friday afternoon. Poppa said he doesn’t believe in combining “church and state.”

“This bill circumvents a private employer’s right to protect their workforce from a public health crisis and endangers their livelihoods by creating unnecessary hardships to accommodate unvaccinated individuals,” Poppa said.

Issues arising from the president’s vaccine mandate are winning on both sides of the aisle. Democrats and Republicans in the legislature said they are working together to find a solution that works for Kansas.

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, said it is “possible” for lawmakers to come to an agreement.

“The devil is always in the details, so we will have to wait until we have the bill, and everyone will judge that and cast their vote.”