23 Nov Historic Special Session Results in Passage of Vaccine Mandate Legislation
In a one-day historic Special Session yesterday brought by legislative petition, the Kansas legislature passed House Bill 2001. The Special Session was called following legislative hearings where over a hundred people testified to a special committee on the negative affects the COVID-19 mandate would have on their employment status.
The bill was championed by both House and Senate leadership and was the sole purpose for the Special Session. The Senate passed the bill 24-11 and the House passed it by a vote of 77-34. Your association joined others in the business community in lobbying against specific portions of the bill that were thought to be over-reaching.
The bill, which was initiated following the announcement of the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates, is said to strengthen Kansas law concerning religious and medical exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure that such exemptions are granted to Kansans who apply for them. The language in the bill is thought to closely mirror existing federal statutes regarding religious exemptions and requires a physician to sign a request for a medical exemption.
Specifically, the bill would require an employer who implements a COVID-19 vaccine requirement to exempt an employee from such requirement, without punitive action, if the employee submits a written waiver request to the employer stating that complying with the requirement would:
- Endanger the life or health of the employee or an individual residing with the employee, as evidenced by an accompanying written statement signed by a physician or another person who performs acts pursuant to practice agreements, protocols, or at the order, direction, or delegation of a physician; or
- Violate sincerely held religious beliefs of the employee, as evidenced by an accompanying written statement signed by the employee. The bill would require an employer to grant an exemption requested in accordance with the bill based on sincerely held religious beliefs without inquiring as to the sincerity of the request.
The bill would also provide that an employer who fails to comply with such provisions and terminates (including the functional equivalent of termination) an employee based on a COVID-19 vaccine requirement (and failure to grant a requested religious or medical exemption) has violated the act. In which case, the terminated employee can file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor (Secretary) alleging that an exemption has not been offered or has been improperly applied or denied, resulting in the employee’s termination. The bill would require the Secretary to investigate the complaint to determine whether: (1) The employer imposed a COVID-19 vaccine requirement; (2) the employee submitted a written waiver request; and (3) the employee was terminated as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement and failure to grant the exemption.
Finally, the bill would provide that an individual aggrieved by a violation of the act, who is otherwise eligible for Employment Security benefits, would not become ineligible for benefits on the grounds that the individual was discharged or suspended for misconduct, if the employer’s conduct in discharging or suspending such individual was a violation of the act (as described above). In addition, the terminated worker could decline to accept work that requires compliance with a COVID-19 vaccine requirement, if the individual has requested an exemption from the prospective employer and such request was denied.
Following passage of the bill, Senate President Masterson stated the following: “Today, the Kansas Legislature took swift action to protect the rights of Kansans who are facing impending deadlines from the Biden Administration that would force them to choose between their livelihood and their religious freedom or their livelihood and advice from their own physician. Many of these Kansans are our front-line heroes in the health care industry or have been in their jobs for decades, and today we took direct action on their behalf,“ said Masterson, who added, “The bill we passed today prevents Joe Biden from forcing businesses into the position of playing God or doctor. It prevents Joe Biden from not allowing people to provide for their own families. It says in no uncertain terms that Kansas legislators will stand for the religious freedom of Kansans.”
The bill now goes to Governor Kelly, who has announced she will sign the legislation. Heading into a reelection year, the Governor recently came out against the federal vaccine mandates.