Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt vows to ‘vigorously challenge’ Biden's vaccine mandate for private workers

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal

Attorney General Derek Schmidt vowed Friday to "vigorously challenge" new vaccine mandates proposed by President Joe Biden that would require workers at large, private employers either get the shot or be subject to regular COVID-19 testing.

In an address to the nation in which he outlined a six-part plan, Biden said his administration also ordered that all federal employees and employees of government contractors must be vaccinated.

It was Biden's private sector vaccine mandate that drew the most attention, however, with the president set to instruct the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to draft a rule on the matter in the coming weeks. 

The mandate would affect employers with 100 workers or more and they would also be required to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated. If workers choose not to be vaccinated, they would have to pass a weekly COVID-19 test to come to work.

Schmidt, as well as a cadre of Republican governors and attorneys general, have vowed to push back on the plan.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt vowed Friday to "vigorously challenge" new vaccine mandates proposed by President Joe Biden that would require workers at large, private employers either get the shot or be subject to regular COVID-19 testing.

In a statement, Schmidt said he supported that Kansans be vaccinated but said "this important health-care decision is reserved for individual Americans not entrusted to the president and federal bureaucrats."

"President Biden yesterday scolded ‘this is not about freedom,’ but the rule of law most certainly is," Schmidt said. "If the president's overreaching rhetoric becomes federal action, then rest assured we will vigorously challenge it."

Other Kansas Republicans have slammed Biden for the move, including Republican members of the state's Congressional delegation. 

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said the new mandates will "only deepen divisions in the country regarding the vaccines."

"I am vaccinated and I will continue to urge Kansans to get vaccinated," Moran said in a statement. "These decisions should be left to each individual, and that decision should be guided by conversations with trusted doctors and not dictated by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C."

Biden's proposal was also met with a cool response from the state's business community.

Alan Cobb, CEO of the Kansas Chamber, said the group and its members "believe in the right of employers to determine their own policies for employees."

"In the case of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, regardless of the level of government, businesses should neither be required nor prevented from requiring the vaccination," Cobb said in a statement.

There is not yet a timeframe for when the rule will be released by OSHA and when workers at private companies might have to comply. Businesses that do not comply with the directive will face “substantial fines” up to $14,000, according to a senior Biden administration official.

When asked about pushback Friday, Biden said it was disappointing that GOP officials were resisting the plan. He appeared nonplussed when asked if he feared a legal challenge over the matter.

"Have at it," Biden said.

USA Today reporters Joey Garrison, Courtney Subramanian, Rick Rouan and Mabinty Quarshie contributed to this story

Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.