Kansas Legislature passes partial ban on vaccine passports in $28 billion budget

·4 min read

Kansas lawmakers on Friday banned any KS state governmental entity from requiring the public to be vaccinated before entering state facilities or receiving services.

The ban was approved as part of a new $28.3 billion budget that provides pay increases for judicial branch employees and an additional $53 million for higher education to ensure the state receives its federal stimulus funds.

Proponents of the ban on vaccine passports said it struck a balance between concern for individual rights while respecting those of businesses to restrict customers.

Democrats said they’d prefer no restriction. Conservative Republicans felt the measure didn’t go far enough since private businesses would still be allowed to require proof of vaccination.

“We’re sort of assuming we’re on a downhill slope of COVID and I hope that we are but what if we’re not and what if there’s another variant?” said Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat. “I think it’s an overreaction on our part and we ought to let the health department people do their job and keep people safe.”

Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City Democrat, said limiting the restriction to government entities was a compromise.

The budget was passed on a 98 - 21 vote in the House and 26-12 in the Senate. Gov. Laura Kelly has not yet said whether she supports the passport provision but has indicated she didn’t plan to impose it on a statewide basis.

Kelly has the power to veto individual line items in the budget.

In their caucus meeting before the Senate vote, Democrats were cautioned not to publicly forecast a veto, but members didn’t appear to be too concerned about it.

The vaccine passport provision was inserted into the budget during negotiations late Thursday night at the suggestion of Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Coldwater Republican.

“I don’t believe that we should be in the business of making people show any sort of passport … to have services in Kansas,” Hoffman said

Hoffman said he didn’t want private businesses to require customers to be vaccinated, he also opposed mask mandates, but said the state shouldn’t get into it because “they’re a private business for a reason.”

But Sen. Kellie Warren, a Leawood Republican, said Kansans wanted assurances that they could go about their daily lives as normal.

Senate Republicans, including Warren, are seeking to pass a bill in the final hours of the legislative session banning businesses from requiring vaccines. But House Republicans and Democrats have thus far rejected the idea, stating a preference to stick with the compromise included in the budget.

“It’s been long standing policy and law that you can’t discriminate based on certain things and this would be another piece of it,” Warren said.

Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a Galena Republican, agreed with that sentiment. He said mask mandates were acceptable but requiring people to inject something into their body crossed a line.

But Democrats rejected the idea as hypocritical and self serving.

“Many of the same people, the same mindset of legislators a few years ago wanted to empower businesses to accept or reject customers based on the religious preference of the shopper,” said Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat.

None of the senators questioned the vaccine proviso during floor debate.

But Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, did question a $300,000 allocation to establish a one-year pilot program for Hope Ranch, a Wichita-area organization that provides “faith-based equine-assisted learning, mentoring and a residential home” for women who have been trafficked in the sex trade.

Francisco, a member of the attorney general’s Human Trafficking Advisory Board, questioned why the board wasn’t consulted and why that particular program was singled out for state funding from among several providing similar services.

“It’s really not a pilot project, it’s just funding an existing organization,” Francisco said.

Sen. Rick Billinger, a Goodland Republican who carried the bill, cited local support for the organization.

“We’ve received some letters from in particular the city of Wichita, the mayor sent a letter of support,” Billinger said. “Also, the local police in Wichita were supporting this program and they’re very appreciative of what they do there.”

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