Vaccine bill reemerges amid accusations of rules manipulation


A Senate committee on Friday revived a bill broadening an exemption for vaccines amid charges that the rules were manipulated to get the bill out to the Senate floor.

On Thursday, the Senate health committee voted 4-3 to sideline the bill, which required schools and day care centers to grant waivers to children on the basis of a sincerely held religious belief without question.

The bill defines a religious belief to include “non-theistic moral and ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.”

Republican state Sen. Molly Baumgardner abstained in that vote but motioned on Friday to bring the bill back for reconsideration. She said she wanted more information about the bill.

She said an abstention put her on the prevailing side, setting off protests from other committee members.

Democratic Sen. Cindy Holscher of Overland Park and Republican Sen. Kristen O’Shea of Topeka questioned whether Baumgardner could motion to bring the bill back up to be reconsidered.

“It’s so funny that here we are having to manipulate the rules,” O’Shea said. “It’s honestly just gross.”

Republican State Sen. Renee Erickson shot back, saying the rules were not manipulated.

“As long as a bill is in committee, it is never dead,” Erickson said. “It is always up to the chair’s prerogative to bring it back. There’s nothing unseemly going on here.”

“A motion to reconsider is appropriate. This isn’t any violation or manipulation of the rules,” Erickson said.

Republican state Sen. Beverly Gossage, chair of the committee, said she had done “a lot of checking on this and research on this to make sure that this was appropriate.”

O’Shea said she had done her own research as well.

“It’s interesting because I’ve been doing checking, too,” O’Shea said. “You’re arguing that it’s up for reconsideration.

“Yes, but it needs to be from the prevailing side and Sen. Baumgardner did not vote, ‘no.’ That’s the part that’s not following the rules,” O’Shea said.

Democratic state Sen. Cindy Holscher of Overland Park told Gossage that Robert’s Rules of Order and the Senate rules define the “prevailing side” as meaning a vote with the prevailing side not an abstention.

“I’m aware,” Gossage said. “Thank you.”

Gossage said that may apply on the Senate floor but not in committee where the chair has the discretion to bring the bill back up.

The bill that passed out of committee broadens an exemption for vaccines that was first enacted by the Legislature in 2021.

It requires schools and day care centers to grant waivers to children on the basis of a sincerely held religious belief without further inquiry.

As originally proposed, the bill would have required employers across the state to grant exemptions from vaccine mandates to their workers based on their faith without a deeper inquiry.

The committee removed the employer section from the bill, leaving it to only apply to schools and day care centers.

The bill also repeals a state law requiring universities to ensure that all incoming students living in campus dormitories be vaccinated for meningitis.

In a separate action on Thursday, the committee passed out a bill banning the state health secretary from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine for any child in a day care center or any student.

The state health department told lawmakers that it would not be adding the COVID-19 vaccination to its list of required vaccinations.

Kansas Action for Children had anticipated that the bill would return.

“We are alarmed that the committee chose to go back and advance a policy that would jeopardize the health of Kansas kids and communities,” said Heather Braum, heath policy adviser for KAC.

Supporters of the bill said that it preserved their “medical freedom,” something they believe was diminished during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They said they wanted to extend rights that were given to workers in 2021 when the Legislature enacted a law requiring employers with mandated COVID vaccines to grant an exemption based on someone’s sincerely held faith.

The bill, as originally proposed, went further to include more than just COVID-19 vaccines and extended a waiver for a religious exemptions to day care centers and all schools.

Supporters said the vaccine mandates put them in a position of choosing between their careers and their faith. They said vaccines should not be mandated for their children.

“This bill does not in the least prevent anyone from getting a vaccine,” Carol Daunis told the committee earlier this week.

“It simply doesn’t force them on our children,” Daunis said. “Parents should be making decisions for their children, not government.”

Geovannie Gone, executive director of the Immunize Kansas Coalition, called the bill a “blow” to public health.

“This bill should receive no further consideration,” Gone said in a statement.

“It disregards the wishes of Kansas voters and would turn back the clock several decades on proven policies to protect our children and youth.”