Unemployment for unvaxxed: Kansans that lose jobs over vaccine order could soon get benefits

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas lawmakers are weighing a proposal that would allow people that lose their jobs due to coronavirus vaccination requirements to be guaranteed unemployment benefits.

Lawmakers are planning to discuss the bill on Friday, during an informational hearing. It’s one of two proposals introduced by Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, during a “Government Overreach” panel meeting on Tuesday. The Republican senator has also drafted a “religious freedom” bill, which would allow employees to claim exemptions under certain conditions.

According to the Kansas Senate Majority leadership, those two bills would be the main items brought to the floor, as plans to bring lawmakers in early for a special session are underway.

“The bills would be discussed on Friday and would be subject to amendment and debate on the floor, as well, just like any bill.”

Kansas Senate Majority Leadership

The Senate Majority Leadership told KSNT’s Kansas Capitol Bureau in an email Wednesday that it’s unlikely that other proposals will be made, but it’s always possible, and that right now, the plan is for the two bills to be discussed. To move forward, two-thirds of lawmakers in both the House and Senate would have to agree for a special session to take place.

However, some business leaders are concerned over the consequences of one of Masterson’s proposals, which would amend the state’s employment security law to provide benefits to thousands of Kansans that choose to opt out of vaccination.

In a news release Tuesday, Kansas Chamber of Commerce President Alan Cobb expressed concerns over how the proposed legislation could impact businesses and the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund, which faced major setbacks during the pandemic.

“Allowing unemployment benefits as the proposed legislation recommends could cause significant financial harm to the state’s UI trust fund, negatively impact its solvency, and lead to increased taxes on the Kansas businesses who are struggling to recover from the pandemic,” Cobb said.

According to the Chamber’s letter, based on current vaccination rates in Kansas, the state could expect to pay out $606 million to $5.6 billion in unemployment benefits to those who lose their jobs because they refuse to follow a federal government mandate or an employer’s human resources policy.

Cobb said the Chamber is hoping to work with state lawmakers to reach an agreement.

“Kansas businesses by and large do not want to mandate the COVID-19 vaccination because they know it will negatively impact their workforce and compound the lack of available workers even more,” Cobb said. “Kansas businesses from the beginning of the pandemic have led the way on determining how to keep their facilities and operations safe. They continue to be the best ones to decide whether a vaccine mandate or wearing face masks are the correct approaches for their companies.” 

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