July 24, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Spirited debate on “Conscientious Right to Refuse Act”

Share Now:
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Individual rights squared off against the rights of the community as the Kansas Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare heard testimony on SB 390, the “Conscientious Right to Refuse Act.” The bill would prohibit discrimination against individuals who refuse certain medical interventions, such as vaccines, and allow them to sue if they believe themselves a victim of such discrimination.

Sen. Mark Steffen, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist, led off the testimony of the bill’s supporters:

Photo of Sen. Steffen courtesy of Kansas Legislature

“Our country pretends to be the bastion of health, yet 52% of children have a chronic illness diagnosis, and autism has increased from one-in-several hundred to one-in-thirty. That’s not accidental, it correlates perfectly with the increase in vaccinations. Public health and the secretary of KDHE (Kansas Department of Health and Environment) impose restraints without scientific basis and then refuse to acknowledge their mistakes and even vow to repeat them. Public health warrants an advisory role at most; “recommend and educate”, that’s it.”

Overland Park attorney William Mize agreed, listing three beneficiaries of the Right to Refuse Act:

  • Employment: Protections for workers and exemptions for businesses
  • College Students: Protections and exemptions allowing them to continue their education
  • Daycares: Protections for children and parents

Lawrence resident Michelle Eagleman remembered her family members facing employment and scholarship losses for refusing the take the Covid vaccine, and offered a warning:

“The last few years have done untold damage on families, societies, and our economy, and the victims won’t let you forget. From the Special Session (2021) to this year’s Session, until you take action and protect people, we will hound you”

Opponents of the bill focused on threats to populations from those refusing to vaccinate themselves and their children. Randy Bowman represented the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments and spoke on the potential costs to the economy:

“I fear we’re creating another legal class which will have untold costs for training of a workforce, training of attorneys, attorneys filing court cases, raising insurance rates, raising costs for employers; ultimately impacting the cost of all the goods we purchase, and the cost of government as we defend ourselves from these lawsuits. There are untold financial costs that should not be excluded from this consideration.”

The effect on schools was presented by Timothy Graham, Government Relations Director for the Kansas National Education Association:

“SB 390 would be a huge step backwards in the accepted practices that have been essential in eradicating childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, polio, and other vaccine-preventable diseases. By creating this broad opt-out expectations and requirements, SB 390 prevents private sector employers from providing safe and healthy workplaces for their employees, as well as preventing schools from providing safe and healthy workplaces for educators and students as well.”

Graham added: “Sick teachers can’t teach, and sick students can’t learn.”

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce also opposes the Conscientious Right to Refuse Act. William Wilk stated their position:

“The Kansas Chamber will continue to oppose legislation preventing businesses the ability to decide what is best for the safety of its employees. SB 390 ties employers’ hands and prevents open dialogue about risks with workplace travel to places vaccines might be required to protect employees from illnesses not common in the United States.”

Rev. Annie Ricker, a Methodist minister representing Kansas Interfaith Action, called the defeat of the bill “a moral imperative” and referred to SB 390 as “a dangerous bill”, declaring:

“Every mainline denomination affirms the importance of childhood vaccinations.”

Sen. Mike Thompson, photo courtesy of the Kansas Legislature

The questioning of the witnesses was vigorous. After Mr. Wilk of the Kansas Chamber deferred a question from Sen. Mike Thompson on whether businesses assume the liability of forcing employees to take a particular vaccination, Sen. Steffen took on the Chamber’s opposition to the bill directly when he asked its representative:

“I hear a lot of talk from the Kansas Chamber about ‘business rights.’ Can you show me the Founding document that delineates ‘business rights?’ Are ‘business rights’ codified in the Constitution?”

When Wilk admitted he wasn’t sure, Steffen responded for him:

“There are no ‘business rights’ in the Constitution”

To Rev. Ricker, Sen. Thompson questioned:

“You talked about the moral imperative to get a vaccination. Do your morals supersede those who decide not to get the vaccine”

“No”, she began. “However, we talk in pretty much every faith tradition about loving and caring for our neighbors. Remaining unvaccinated when we can be vaccinated…” When she hesitated further, Sen. Thompson rephrased his question:

“Is your personal safety more important than someone else’s who may have an adverse reaction to a vaccine?”

“We don’t get vaccinated purely for personal safety, Senator”, responded the minister. “We get vaccinated because in order for a vaccination to be effective, we have to have herd immunity at roughly 95%, at least for measles.”

Photo of Rev. Ricker courtesy of Great Plains United Methodist Church

Sen. Thompson asked if individual rights don’t matter. Rev. Ricker replied that they do, which Sen. Thompson labeled a contradiction.

Rev. Ricker disagreed, saying: “We allow for individuals to exempt themselves, already, for health or religious reasons.”

Sen. Thompson: “Those parents who decide that they don’t want their child to get a vaccination….”

Rev. Ricker: “Are putting other children at risk, which is wrong.”

Sen. Thompson: “But, again, you’re putting your morals over theirs.”

Rev. Ricker: “Senator, we do that all the time. We all are guided by our own morality, and when we come together as a society, we have affirmed a basic set of morals that we choose to live by. We don’t live on islands, we’re in a society, and as such, we have to be able to cooperate and work together, so we adopt a basic morality.”

Committee Vice-Chair Sen. Renee Erickson, leading the hearing for the absent Sen. Beverly Gossage, brought the discussion to a close, advising the “debate” on the right to refuse was better suited online, and soon after adjourned the proceeding.

Share Now:
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Articles