February 27, 2024

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Republicans differ on approach to eliminating federal vaccine mandate

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Three Kansas state senators and two state representatives are asking fellow lawmakers to petition Governor Laura Kelly for a special legislative session to address a federal vaccine mandate. Meanwhile, the Legislative Coordinating council created a committee to address federal overreach related to a COVID vaccine mandate.

Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson; Sen. Alicia Straub, R-Ellinwood; Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee; Rep. Trevor Jacobs, R-Fort Scott; and Rep. Tatum Lee, R-Ness City distributed a letter to lawmakers last night.

In it, they ask legislators to return a signed, notarized petition signature urging the Governor to call a special session on Oct. 18. 

During the special session, the five will introduce a Patriot’s Freedom Bill.

Lawmakers seek to introduce freedom legislation

“Our constituents are demanding that their elected Representatives and Senators go back to Topeka for a special session for the purpose of nullifying President Biden’s executive orders and passing additional legislation to protect the individual liberties of Kansans and ensure that Kansans aren’t being forced to take vaccines or wear masks,” the letter reads.

The draft bill prohibits vaccine mandates and statewide stay-at-home orders and restricts the government from closing churches.

Lee says Kansans deserve protection.

“We are living in an unprecedented time in our nation. The government is pushing mandates at an alarming rate,” the letter reads. “From the White House to the county courthouse, we are witnessing mandates to vaccinate, mandates for masks, and now we are personally watching our friends, families, and neighbors losing their jobs because they choose personal liberty.”

The legal issues surrounding vaccine mandates are tricky and vary based on who is attempting to implement a mandate.

Eric Stafford, vice president of government affairs at the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, earlier this year said the Chamber believes in the right of employers to determine their own policies for employees. He noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act allows employers to mandate vaccinations. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does the same.

But many legal scholars say having the federal government mandate that employers require vaccinations is a constitutional violation.

State law requires 2/3rds of legislature to force Governor’s hand

State law requires the governor to call a special session when properly petitioned by the legislature. And a petition signed by two-thirds of the legislature forces her hand, according to the Kansas Constitution. 

Republicans make up two-thirds of the Kansas Legislature, but that doesn’t mean the petition is a slam dunk. Special sessions are rare in Kansas. Since 1972, only six occurred, all called by the Governor. 

The letter requests that the Governor call a special session even if the petition falls short of the necessary signatures. Released late on a Sunday evening, it appears the effort gained immediate steam. Within a few hours of Lee announcing the letter on social media, her post garnered more than 90 shares on Facebook.

She says that’s because Kansans are hurting.

“They are losing jobs, and this is serious,” she said. “Tyranny is running amuck in our country and in our state, and we in Kansas know better. Our constituents deserve to be protected. They deserve their personal choices be protected, including their healthcare.”

Committee will examine federal overreach on vaccine mandate

The petition reached lawmakers on Sunday night. The following morning, the Legislative Coordinating Council met and authorized an 11-person special committee on government overreach. 

Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita Republican, said Monday’s meeting was not a response to the letter.

“We have some new members that are energetic. There’s a lack of understanding… Even if we had a special session, we would have committee meetings. It’s a little bit cart-in-front-of-the horse,” Masterson said.

Masterson will appoint five Senators to the committee, and the Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman will appoint six state representatives to the committee. Members will study federal overreach, including the Biden administration’s announced vaccine mandate.

“Everybody wants to help our citizens right now…to make sure that these overreaching mandates can be handled lawfully,” Ryckman said. “I like this approach.”

Time runs short for employees opposed to taking COVID vaccine

Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, is one of the lawmakers spearheading the petition for a special session. 

“This call for action has reached a crescendo with President Biden’s executive order to mandate vaccines,” Thompson wrote in a Facebook post. “For many, time is running out as their deadline for vaccination approaches.”

He also supports the LCC’s efforts.

“I fully support this effort and believe it will set the framework for legislation that is desperately needed to protect Kansans,” his Facebook post reads. “Those who wish to get the vaccine already have access to it. But those who are not comfortable with taking the jab have rights, too. And they have been ignored for too long.”

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