Kansas lawmakers plan ahead for federal vaccine mandate; Could a ‘special session’ be coming?

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Growing concerns over President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate have prompted Kansas lawmakers to explore options of what can be done.

One of the options is a “special session” to get legislation passed, before thousands of Kansans potentially lose their jobs next month.

Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, who chairs the state’s Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates, said their goal is to plan the next move.

“The goal of the committee is to look at what we can do as as state to protect Kansans’ freedoms and rights,” Erickson said. “I believe if you want to get the vaccine, you should get the vaccine, and if you don’t, you shouldn’t be forced to.”

Senate President Ty Masterson (left) and Republican Senator Renee Erickson from Wichita (right), listen to testimony on the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate Friday, October 29, 2021. (KSNT/Rebekah Chung)

Now, plans for a special session may be on the table, with the goal to finalize something before December 8, when thousands of Kansans are expected to lose their jobs over the mandate. At least three universities in the state have decided to enforce the new federal order.

Lawmakers are now weighing whether a special session should take place to discuss the issue. While their plans are not yet concrete, a spokesperson for Kansas Senate leadership, Mike Pirner, told Kansas Capitol Bureau on Monday that details on their plans will be discussed in the committee’s next meeting, Tuesday, November 9.

“There is a desire among many legislators to do something, if possible,” Pirner said.

Lawmakers usually convene for a few months each year, starting in January. However, a special session occurs when the legislature is called to meet at a time outside the regular legislative session usually to address a particular topic or emergency. The most recent was in 2020 to enact the governmental response to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic in Kansas and provide certain relief during this time.

Pirner said that “several steps” would have to take place prior to special session taking place. Two-thirds majority elected in each house would have to sign a petition calling for a special session. The governor also has the power to call a special session herself.

On the national level, Republican U.S. Senator for Kansas Roger Marshall has joined efforts to exempt front-line workers from getting vaccinated, helping to introduce the Keeping Our COVID-19 Heroes Employed Act.

“This vaccine mandate is a slap in the face to so many frontline workers that ran to battle during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Marshall said in a press release Monday. 

In Kansas, protests have emerged against the federal mandate. The latest breaking out as lawmakers held their second of two back-to-back hearings on Saturday with hundreds gathering outside the State Capitol.

The majority of people argued against federal vaccine mandates, during the set of public hearings, calling for lawmakers to take action.

“We need to at least make noise. At minimum, we need our representatives to make noise,” said Robert Davis, a business owner from Shawnee who spoke in the first hearing Friday.

In the meantime, the committee has planned a series of meetings to figure out the next course of action for Kansans that choose not to get vaccinated. In Friday’s meeting, some lawmakers, who have spoken in support of the mandate, also said the issues may require further review.

“I support a special session. I think this subject is serious enough that the entire body ought to give it its full attention with nothing else on the table,” said Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka.

However, Representative Miller also explained that it is best to follow public health orders at times where diseases are spreading.

“There are people that do not act responsibly. The responsible thing to do would be to follow the medical advice,” he said.

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