The Kansas State Legislature passed a measure this week designed to protect workers from employer vaccine mandates, requiring businesses to provide wide-ranging exemptions.
While the bill allows employers to have vaccine requirements in place, it forces them to allow for exemptions, including for medical and wide-ranging religious reasons. It also aims to offer unemployment benefits to individuals who were forced to leave their job due to the vaccine.
The Senate version of the bill was more aggressive. It included an amendment prohibiting businesses from imposing vaccine requirements, but that amendment did not make it into the final version.
According to the Kansas Reflector:
The final version was watered down by dropping a Senate amendment forbidding Kansas businesses from imposing vaccination requirements on employees and an amendment banning discrimination against workers based on vaccination status. The settlement deleted a 2023 sunset of the law and retained a severability clause to preserve the bill if portions were successfully challenged in court.
In addition, the package would funnel civil fines as high as $50,000 paid by businesses for violation of the law to the state’s unemployment fund rather than the general treasury.
Some lawmakers remain skeptical. Democrat State Rep. Vic Miller, for instance, said the potential unemployment benefits will be relatively useless, as workers will not have a reason to leave due to the wide-open exemptions.
“Frankly, I don’t think anybody is going to ultimately qualify for unemployment. It’s a pretend thing, to pretend that they care about these people. It’s — it’s bullshit,” he said, calling it a “scam.”
“All they have to do is sign a phony statement that they believe the devil is their religion, and therefore they qualify [for the exemption],” Miller said.
However, Senate Majority Leader Larry Alley, a Republican, acknowledged that many believe the bill “doesn’t go far enough.”
Nonetheless, he said it “protects liberty and protects individual freedom, and keeps Kansans working and protects our religious beliefs.”
Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly is expected to sign the measure. Notably, she opposes President Biden’s sweeping federal vaccine mandate.
“It is too late to impose a federal standard now that we have already developed systems and strategies that are tailored for our specific needs,” she said in a November 5 statement on the matter, promising to “seek a resolution that continues to recognize the uniqueness of our state and builds on our on-going efforts to combat a once-in-a-century crisis.”
Kansas is the latest state to take some form of action against vaccine mandates. Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation in Brandon, Florida, designed to protect workers from losing their jobs over vaccine mandates.