A faction of conservative lawmakers late Sunday night started circulating a petitition that would call for a special legislative session to “nullify” the president’s vaccine mandates for COVID-19.
The group of conservative lawmakers includes state Republican Sen. Mark Steffen of Hutchinson, Rep. Tatum Lee of Ness City, Sen. Alicia Straub of Ellinwood, Sen. Mike Thompson of Shawnee and Rep. Trevor Jacobs of Fort Scott.
In their letter, the legislators said they are trying to collect signatures from two thirds of the Kansas House and Senate that would require Gov. Laura Kelly to call a special session.
Several of the lawmakers either attended or addressed a rally last week opposing medical mandates such as vaccines and masks for controlling the spread of COVID-19.
They say they have legislation – called the “Patriots Freedom Bill” – that they are ready to introduce if a special session would be called.
“Our constituents are demanding that their elected representatives and senators go back to Topeka for a special session for the purpose of nullifying President Biden’s executive orders and passing additional legislation to protect the individual liberties of Kansans and ensure that Kansans aren’t being forced to take vaccines or to wear masks,” the letter states.
The likelihood of calling a special session to nullify a federal vaccine mandate is highly unlikely, especially since the risk of defying a federal mandate could be costly.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. recently told the Legislative Coordinating Council that Kansas businesses could be hit with millions in fines if they followed a legislative mandate to disobey a federal a mandate.
While noting that he believes the president overreached with plans to mandate employer vaccines, Ryckman said the Legislature needs to show caution in how it addresses the issue.
“We want to find real solutions to these problems before we start doing things that could be reckless,” he said.
Biden is directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop an emergency rule requiring employers with more than 100 workers to require vaccinations or weekly testing.
Ryckman said Kansas businesses could potentially be facing more than a half billion in fines each day if they don’t follow the law.
He cautioned about what happened to two Kansans who were convicted of federal firearms charges who thought they were protected by a state law that said a gun accessory manufactured in Kansas was not subject to federal law.
“We are looking for solutions that do not cost $500 million a day,” he said.
Senate President Ty Masterson also suggested a deliberate approach to the issue.
“We need coordination,” Master told the LCC on Sept. 15.
“We need coordination with our federal delegation. We need coordination with our attorney general. We need coordination to make sure we’re not flying off the handle with something that we can’t sustain or has an unintended consequence.”
More than half of the Kansas Legislature has already signed on to a letter to President Biden, saying that the new vaccine mandate for employers contains “many troubling elements” and threatens to “wreck” the economy.
“Mr. President, we demand an immediate end to this federal overreach and the withdrawal of your decisions to push a national vaccine mandate and punish private businesses and health care providers,” the letter states.
“Your COVID-19 action plan is devoid of respect for the U.S. Constitution, the rule of law, and our country’s division of power under the federalist system.”
The House leadership team – Ryckman, House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins and Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch – said sent out an email to lawmakers on Monday afternoon explaining its reluctance to call a special session.
“There has been discussion lately about the calling of a special legislative session. This is an important issue that some hope can be used to divide us,” the email said.
“But we know that the strength of our caucus and the reason it continues to grow is because we have worked together. It is our sincere hope that we will continue to do so.”
The letter said no one in House leadership supports the Biden administration vaccine and testing mandates.
“As Republicans we stand against heavy handed mandates and government intrusion,” the email said.
“As the majority caucus we also understand that action must be taken at the right time and in the right way or else we risk being ineffective or worse causing harm to the very people we are here to serve.
“A special session may be needed at some time to carry out a well thought out, constitutionally proper, and legally effective strategy to fight back against them.
“The steps that are being taken right now are designed to determine that strategy and ensure that when we act, we do so in a way that does not waste taxpayer dollars or put Kansans at risk of violating state law or federal law in a no-win dilemma.”
Lee, meanwhile, has already called out Republican House leadership on Facebook.
“I’m so tired of the political games the Republican leadership in the Kansas House of representatives play,” Lee wrote on Facebook.
“So let’s just make sure everybody knows…again..who’s fighting for them and who’s playing political games,” she wrote.
She then posted a series of text message exchanges with House Majority Leader Hawkins where he asked her to sign onto the letter to the president.
In the text messages, Lee says the Legislature can’t wait until January to convene and must meet to take action immediately.
Hawkins noted that it was difficult enough to get 84 lawmakers to sign a letter to the president let alone calling a special session.
Steffen, a physician, a has been one of the leading opponents of mandatory vaccines in the Legislature.
He sponsored a bill last session barring employers from requiring vaccines and restricting the state health secretary from requiring new vaccines for school kids died on the Senate calendar during the last legislative session.