TOPEKA — The two prominent candidates for governor in next year’s election share at least one political stance.
They both say President Joe Biden’s latest COVID-19 vaccine mandate is bad for Kansas.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt have issued statements objecting to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new policy requiring private businesses with at least 100 employees to ensure workers are vaccinated or submit to weekly testing and wear a face covering.
Schmidt’s opposition to the mandate was expected. Last week, he joined a lawsuit opposing Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors. In testimony before the Legislature’s government overreach committee, he indicated he would oppose future mandates as well.
On Thursday, when the new mandate was announced, Schmidt said he would file a lawsuit in response. A spokesman for his campaign said Schmidt still intends to file a third lawsuit over a new Medicaid and Medicare rule that requires nursing home staff to be vaccinated against the deadly virus.
“The Biden administration is about to publish yet another federal vaccine mandate, this one using OSHA to target thousands of Kansas private businesses and their workers,” Schmidt said. “As I said weeks ago, we have been waiting for publication of this action that the president announced Sept. 9. … We are reviewing it, and we will challenge it in court soon.”
Kelly responded Friday by saying she shares a goal with the president of keeping safe but doesn’t believe the directive is “the correct, or the most effective, solution for Kansas.”
“States have been leading the fight against COVID-19 from the start of the pandemic,” Kelly said. “It is too late to impose a federal standard now that we have already developed systems and strategies that are tailored for our specific needs. I will seek a resolution that continues to recognize the uniqueness of our state and builds on our on-going efforts to combat a once-in-a-century crisis.”
COVID-19 has killed more than 6,400 Kansans and hospitalized more than 15,000 since the start of the pandemic. As of Wednesday, the Kansas Department for Health and Environment was tracking 164 active outbreaks across the state — including 10 with at least five infections connected to long-term care facilities, three at private businesses, and five at public and private schools.
The safe and effective vaccines are available for free, but just 53.4% of the state population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes 63.5% of Kansans ages 12 and older, and 65.5% of adults.
Nationwide, 67% of the population is fully vaccinated, including 78.4% of Americans 12 and older and 80.3% of adults.
Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.
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Expect the Legislature to grapple with an assortment of coronavirus bills, including one taking away authority of private businesses to mandate employees get a COVID-19 vaccination. Another proposal would add COVID-19 vaccination status to the list of prohibited forms of employment discrimination along with race, religion, color, sex, disability, ancestry, national origin and age.