TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday signed legislation passed during a special session the day before, clearing the way for unvaccinated workers to keep their jobs in the face of federal mandates.
The bill crafted by GOP leaders in the Legislature provides for unquestioned moral, religious and medical exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine requirements and ensures unemployment compensation for anyone who is fired because of their vaccine status anyway. Businesses risk up to $50,000 fines for refusing to accept an exemption.
Lawmakers forced the special session in response to President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates for federal employees and contractors, medical workers, and private businesses with 100 or more employees.
“I have been clear that I believe it is too late to impose a federal standard,” Kelly said in a statement. “States have been leading the fight against COVID-19 for nearly two years. I know there are Kansans who believe this legislation goes too far, and there are others who believe this legislation doesn’t go far enough. But I was elected to lead, and leadership means seeking compromise.”
The Democratic governor had issued a statement late Monday, before lawmakers voted on the bill, pledging to sign it. Democrats in the Legislature opposed the legislation, warning that it would have little effect and could be struck down in court.
“This bill is the result of compromise in action,” Kelly said. “Now that it is signed, we need to turn our attention toward pressing issues, like growing our economy and passing my plan to axe the food tax, so we can put money back into everyday Kansans’ pockets.”
Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said the legislation protects the rights of Kansans who faced deadlines in December and January that would have forced them to choose between their livelihoods and religious freedom.
“Many of these Kansans are our front-line heroes in the health care industry or have been in their jobs for decades, and today we took direct action on their behalf,” Masterson said at the close of the special session. “The bill we passed today prevents Joe Biden from forcing businesses into the position of playing God or doctor. It prevents Joe Biden from not allowing people to provide for their own families. It says in no uncertain terms that Kansas legislators will stand for the religious freedom of Kansans.”
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The attorney general notified Kansas State University and the University of Kansas that both were in violation of a new state law broadening access to religious or medical exemptions to federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
Enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for millions of health care workers was blocked in 10 states on Monday, after a ruling by a federal judge in Missouri.
Democratic legislators criticized the Kansas special session last week, calling the measures considered a waste of taxpayer money, and pointing to issues like the food sales tax and the criminal justice system in need of a closer look.
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.
Gov. Laura Kelly has signed legislation passed during a special session Monday, clearing the way for unvaccinated workers to keep their jobs in the face of federal mandates.
The Kansas Legislature completed a 14-hour special session Monday night by sending Gov. Laura Kelly a bill packed with generous medical, religious and philosophical exemptions to federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates and the potential of state unemployment benefits to people fired for refusing to be inoculated.