The Kansas Legislature wants to talk about COVID-19 vaccine mandates. But the top official at Emporia’s main health care provider indicated Friday it’s all in vain.
“They’re not going to be successful,” said Newman Regional Health CEO Wright said. “Public health has always been a domain of the government, and I think it’s going to remain that.”
In a Kansas first, every Republican in the legislature signed a petition calling for a special session. But one Republican lawmaker admitted Friday that Wright may have a point.
“If people are seeing this as a way to oppose the federal vaccine mandate, I don’t see how that’s successful,” Rep. Mark Schreiber, R-Emporia, said. “I don’t see how a state legislature can override a federal law.”
Wright said lawmakers might be able to change some aspects of the mandate requirement. But he disputed what he considers the premise behind the special session.
“To think that vaccines are not necessary is folly,” Wright said. “I think the majority of people working in health care agree that vaccination is the way to go.”
But he admitted “not being told what to do” is part of the American spirit.
Schreiber sees the point behind the special session differently.
“Measures being taken by private businesses for their employees — some people would like a remedy for that,” Schreiber said.
Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson has proposed a bill to make it easier for workers to seek a religious exemption from the vaccine. Wright noted that health care workers with medical or religious concerns can apply for exemptions now.
“We don’t want to lose them,” Wright said.
Under a presidential order, workers at all hospitals nationwide must receive one dose of COVID-19 by Sunday, Dec. 5 unless they seek an exemption. The entire vaccine regimen must be completed by Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt sued the Biden administration Wednesday specifically over the vaccine requirement for health care facilities which are part of Medicare and Medicaid. That includes rural clinics.
Schmidt warned in a statement that the vaccine mandate “will likely lead some facilities — particularly those in underserved, rural areas — to close due to an inability to hire sufficient staff.”
Federal data shows that by the end of October, more than 80% of the staff at two Emporia nursing homes had at least one COVID-19 shot. Presbyterian Manor was an exception, at 64.6%.
Another Masterson proposal would legalize unemployment benefits for employees who lose their jobs because they’re not vaccinated. Schreiber called both of his proposals “works in progress.”
“I don’t know that in the end, I’ll be able to support either one,” Schreiber said. “But I’m willing to listen to that debate.”
The special session is scheduled to begin on Monday, Nov. 22. Schreiber admits some legislators could try to squeeze other topics into a Thanksgiving week session. But he has no plans to do that.
“There are no limits, basically,” Schreiber said. “Other proposals can come to the forefront. Anything could happen.”