Legislative committee formed on federal vaccine mandate

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Legislative leadership on Monday created a special committee to explore how the state can respond to a federal vaccine mandate proposed by President Joe Biden.

The Legislative Coordinating Council created an 11-member special committee on “Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates.”

The committee, which will be made up of five senators and six House members, will meet for five days.

The House speaker and the senate president will determine the scope of the committee and make appointments to the panel.

The panel is an alternative to a special session that is being pushed by a faction of conservatives in the Legislature.

Leading lawmakers said a special committee is preferable to holding a special legislative session that would cost taxpayers $65,000 a day.

“I think everybody wants to help our citizens right now,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr.

“We want to make sure that we do everything possible for our citizens of this state and make sure that these overreaching mandates can be handled thoughtfully,” he said.

Republican lawmakers are grappling with how to respond to the president’s directive to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop rules requiring employers with more than 100 workers  to require vaccinations or weekly testing.

There aren’t many options now available – other than a letter Republicans sent to the president – since the rule has not been promulgated.

Senate President Ty Masterson emphasized that the formation of the committee was not in response to an effort by some conservatve lawmakers to call a special session.

“We have some new members who are energetic,” Masterson said.

Masterson said even if there was a special session, there would be the same committee meetings that would meet to discuss possible solutions.

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes expressed concern that setting up a committee on federal medical mandates might set the stage for more political fights.

“I just don’t want this committee to politicize this anymore,” Sykes said.

“We need to have solutions and stop having a political debate on this, ” she said.

“How do we protect Kansas and keep our economy growing? That’s what we need.”

That view was echoed by House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer.

“We should utilize the committee to find commonsense solutions, not further politicize basic health and safety measures,” he said in a statement.

“Public health over politics is the way to go,” he said.

“This pandemic will not go away on its own — we need legislative leadership to continue their vocal embrace of getting vaccinated and following CDC guidelines, ensuring that our local businesses and public schools can remain safely open.”

Late Sunday, a group of conservative lawmakers circulated a letter trying to garner 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.

Leading Republicans have cautioned against immediately passing a law barring employers from mandating vaccines because businesses could be hit with costly fines if they adhere to a statute that might not be valid.