This Week in Topeka
Special Session - November 22, 2021
Business, Economic Development & Local Government News from the Legislative Session
Kansas lawmakers, reacting to vaccine mandates issued by the Biden Administration, reconvened in Topeka yesterday for what turned out to be a one-day Special Session to determine how the State of Kansas would respond to the new federal requirements.
While there was near universal disdain for the federal mandate, there was hardly agreement on what the State’s response should be. Unfortunately, the solution approved by the Legislature places the business community in the middle of a political fight that will surely create HR challenges, increase costs, and restrict the autonomy of businesses to operate in a manner that makes the most sense for their unique structures.
Below is a synopsis of the approved legislation that will soon arrive on Governor Laura Kelly’s desk. She has already stated she intends to sign the bill.
Conference Committee Report on House Bill 2001
Employers who implement a COVID-19 vaccine requirement will be required to exempt an employee, without punitive action, from the requirement if the employee submits a written waiver request on one of two grounds:
- The life or health of an employee (or an individual residing with them) would be endangered by the vaccine, or
- The employee has a sincerely held religious belief against the vaccination
The life and health exemption requires a written statement by a healthcare provider whereas the religious exemption does not. Further, employers would not be allowed to inquire as to the sincerity of the religious exemption request.
Employees who believe their employer did not comply with provisions of the bill can file a complaint with the Kansas Department of Labor who will then have 60 days to investigate the merits of the complaint. Employers with fewer than 100 employees could face fines of up to $10,000 per violation whereas employers with 100 or more employees could face fines of up to $50,000 per violation. The bill stipulates factors that provide guidance as to the level of fine imposed.
Lastly, the bill also authorizes unemployment benefits for employees who lose their jobs in a manner that runs afoul of the newly passed law.
The Chamber, along with numerous other business advocacy organizations, spoke against the legislation telling lawmakers that employers are in the best position to make these types of determinations for their employees and worksites. We know worksites and work environments vary greatly and one-size fits all solutions – whether from the federal government or the state government – rarely work well.
The business community should pay careful attention to the provisions of this new law and be fully prepared to incorporate changes, as necessary, to current company policies related to COVID vaccinations. Additionally, businesses should also become familiar with provisions of another bill introduced yesterday, SB 2, that goes even further in dictating to businesses how they deal with health issues in their worksites.
While SB 2 didn’t get discussed during yesterday’s Special Session, it is possible that this bill or a similar version of it will be introduced during the 2022 regular session.
How They Voted on Conference Committee Report for HB 2001
- Ethan Corson – No
- Molly Baumgardner - Yes
- Beverly Gossage - Yes
- Cindy Holscher – No
- Rob Olson - Yes
- Dina Sykes – No
- Mike Thompson – Yes
- Kellie Warren – Yes
- Pat Pettey was recorded as being absent and not voting.
- Chris Croft – Yes
- Stephanie Clayton – No
- Owen Donohoe – No
- Charlotte Esau – Yes
- Linda Featherston – No
- Jo Ella Hoye - No
- Tim Johnson – Yes
- Heather Meyer – No
- Cindy Neighbor – No
- Dan Osman – No
- Mari-Lynn Poskin – No
- John Resman – Yes
- Susan Ruiz – No
- Ron Ryckman – Yes
- Jerry Stogsdill – No
- Bill Sutton – Yes
- Sean Tarwater – Yes
- Adam Thomas – Yes
- John Toplikar - Yes
- Carl Turner - Yes
- Lindsay Vaughn – No
- Brandon Woodard – No
- Rui Xu -No
- Representatives Megan Lynn and Jarrod Ousley were recorded as absent and not voting.
Kevin Walker, IOM
Senior Vice President of Public Policy
(913) 766-7602 | (913) 526-6855