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Special session addressing federal mandates starts Monday in Topeka

Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 7:12 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - In less than a week, Kansas lawmakers head back to Topeka for a special session that will focus on two bills in response to federal vaccine mandates.

The two bills challenging mandates from the Biden administration are being drafted with a final version anticipated for release by the end of the week. The special session starting Monday is a first in Kansas history. It’s the first time that legislators have gathered enough signatures to request a special session instead of the governor.

In Kansas, special sessions are rare, but Governor Laura Kelly did call one last year in response to COVID-19. Lawmakers discussed the need to return for another, the seventh special session in state history. A question that comes with lawmakers reconvening outside the traditional legislative session is how much this special session will cost.

Rep. Stephen Owens, R-Hesston, said the extra time in Topeka next week will cost about $63,000 per day.

“The ancillary cost of people losing their jobs, losing their income, losing their homes and all of these other things, certainly far outweigh the cost of going back in a special session,” Owens said.

Rep. Owens and Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, are two members of the Special Committee on Government Overreach and Impact of COVID-19 Mandates. Last week, they heard testimony on two draft bills. One would allow Kansans to get unemployment insurance if they’re fired for not complying with vaccine mandates. The second would require employers to grant religious exemptions for anyone who claims it, without question.

With much feedback from Kansans, Carmichael said, “It is important that people have an opportunity to be heard,” and that legislators respond to their concerns.

State representatives Owens and Carmichael said they hope the special session will be effective and efficient.

“Every single Republican in the House and the Senate, regardless (of whether) they’re conservative or moderate, signed on to call this special session,” Owens said. “So, I think that of itself speaks volumes to people’s willingness to come together to work because they see people are hurting,”

Carmichael said he understands why people are upset with vaccination requirements in order to keep their jobs.

“But I hope that most of us will not lose sight of the fact that vaccines are our best change to get this virus under control,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has filed three lawsuits regarding the federal vaccine mandates. All three are pending in U.S. federal courts. Schmidt issued a statement saying, “These federal vaccine mandates from the Biden Administration are an unprecedented attempt to expand federal power far beyond what federal law and our Constitution allow, and we are fighting them vigorously. No Kansans should lose their jobs because their personal healthcare decisions displease the president of the United States.”

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