GOP wants Kansas to oppose vaccine mandates this month

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TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) – Republican lawmakers in Kansas are pushing to enact new state laws ahead of Thanksgiving to financially protect workers if they refuse to comply with federal mandates to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Key GOP legislative leaders on Tuesday called on lawmakers to hold a special session to consider proposals to make it easier for workers to seek religious exemptions from vaccination warrants and to provide unemployment benefits to workers made redundant for refusing to do so. vaccinate. Both proposals emerged from a legislative committee meeting on Tuesday and come in response to vaccine mandates announced in September. by President Joe Biden.

Democratic Governor Laura Kelly last week made her opposition public terms of the Democratic president, but she also said she didn’t think a special session was warranted. Lawmakers can force one if two-thirds of them sign a petition, and Republicans have large enough majorities. Lawmakers have adjourned for the year in May and are not expected to meet until January.

Senate Speaker Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, suggested starting a special session on November 22, just three days before Thanksgiving, to tackle “all that garbage” from the Biden administration. The vaccine committee plans to have a hearing and could vote on both proposals on Friday, allowing for faster action if lawmakers have a special session.

“The Kansans should not be forced to choose between their personal beliefs and their work,” Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman Jr., a Republican from Olathe, said in a statement.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican who hopes to overthrow Kelly in the race for governors next year, has filed Kansas in two federal lawsuits against Biden’s tenure. A mandate states that employees of private companies with 100 or more workers must be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 tests.

Conservative Republican lawmakers pushed for a special session last month, but the effort was not very successful. The alternative of the top GOP leaders was to form the committee on vaccine mandates; Masterson is a member and on Tuesday he approved a special session as soon as possible.

“What has changed is that we now have a plan,” said Rep. Stephen Owens, a conservative Republican from Hesston, another committee member.

In committee hearings last month, critics of the vaccine warrants urged lawmakers not to postpone action until January because deadlines for getting vaccinated would have passed. The two proposals submitted to the committee on Tuesday came from Masterson.

The first would prevent employers from guessing workers if they sought a religious exemption from a vaccination mandate by claiming that being vaccinated violated sincere religious beliefs.

Senator Vic Miller, a Democrat from Topeka, said such a provision could be more lenient than the state’s long-standing policies granting religious exemptions to other vaccines required by the state, such as those against chickenpox, mumps or hepatitis for K-12 students. He said Masterson’s alternative for COVID-19 vaccines “looks like everything.

“You don’t even have to have a good faith belief, a religious belief. If you just say you do it, you get a free ride, ”Miller said.

But Masterson said employers – and the state – don’t have to try to judge the validity of a person’s religious beliefs.

“I would argue that no one has this ability – it is the fundamental affirmation of religious freedom,” Masterson said.

The other proposal would revise state unemployment laws. One says that people do not receive benefits if they do not have “good reasons” to quit their job or if they have been “made redundant”. The law also requires people to look for “suitable” work in order to continue receiving benefits.

Kelly said last week that issues around benefits for people who quit or lost their jobs after refusing to be vaccinated would be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Under the proposal, people would not lose benefits for refusing to take a job requiring a COVID-19 vaccine, and they could not be denied benefits if they lost a job after refusing to take a COVID-19 vaccine. get vaccinated against COVID-19.

But the influential Kansas Chamber of Commerce immediately worried that the move could result in the state paying hundreds of millions of dollars in additional benefits. Employers pay taxes to help fund benefits.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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