Special session challenging COVID-19 mandates underway; Here’s what to expect

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TOPEKA, (KSNT)— Kansas lawmakers are returning early Monday morning for a special session, challenging President Biden’s federal vaccine mandate.

Lawmakers will gavel in at 10 a.m. with two major bills, both introduced by Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, are being brought to the floor for debate. One bill is a “religious freedom” bill. The proposal would allow employees to submit a written waiver request to employers requiring the mandate under certain conditions. It would also allow employees to bring a civil action to employers over damages brought on by such a violation. The second bill would guarantee unemployment benefits for those laid off due to the vaccine mandate.

“The intention would be to protect the individual. The core of what we’re trying to get to is the protection of someone’s fundamental first amendment rights.”

SEN. TY MASTERSON, R-KANSAS SENATE PRESIDENT

GOP lawmakers held a caucus Sunday night with plans to move quickly on the two proposals, which have seemed to gain support among some democratic lawmakers as well.

In addition, another proposal made by Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, would allow workers to sue for damages or medical issues caused by forced vaccinations.

In an informational hearing on the bills, Miller said he’s hoping to have enough time to debate the bills without the process being rushed.

“While it satisfies me, I very much appreciate that others aren’t currently satisfied enough to get their own vaccination, and I think we should respect that,” Rep. Miller said.

The Democratic Representative is one of many that oppose the federal mandate. While, he said he believes in encouraging people to get vaccinated, he said [the President’s mandate] “is not the way to go.”

The push comes after protests across the country and in Kansas, people venting their frustration over the new federal order.

While the proposals have gained support, public hearings pointed to mounting concerns among advocacy groups and business leaders.

Michael Poppa, a representative for Mainstream Coalition, a non-profit organization aimed at “speaking out against extremism,” said his group strongly believes in the separation of “church and state,” arguing that there are already sufficient religious exemption requirements at the state and federal level.

“We believe very strongly that there is no place for the church to govern, nor the government to impede on religion,” Poppa said.

Eric Stafford spoke on behalf of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, representing several businesses in the state. One bill, which expands unemployment benefits to those that are fired over the mandate, has drawn attention from the business community; some leaders concerned over the cost.

“We ask that you not punish us in the business community for only carrying out what the federal government is trying to carry out,” Stafford said.

Still, lawmakers say their main goal is trying to find a solution that works for Kansas.

Representative John Barker, R-Abilene, said it’s “possible” that legislators will come to an agreement.

“The devil’s always in the details, so we’ll have to wait until we have the bill, and everybody will review that and cast their votes,” Barker said.

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December 31 2021 11:59 pm