During Lawrence visit, Gov. Kelly stops short of endorsing Biden’s plan to require vaccination or testing, says she’s awaiting more details

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Gov. Laura Kelly speaks at a Lawrence economic development announcement on Sept. 14, 2021, at the KU Innovation Park on the University of Kansas' West Campus.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly — a Democrat in an otherwise largely Republican state — stopped short of endorsing President Joe Biden’s order that businesses with more than 100 employees require vaccinations or frequent testing of those who refuse to get the vaccine.

While in Lawrence on Tuesday morning for an economic development announcement, Kelly said she needed to hear more details about how the president’s plan would be implemented.

“We have not seen the final guidance from the Biden administration, so we are still sort of withholding,” Kelly said during an interview with the Journal-World when she was asked whether she thought Biden’s announced plans were a good idea.

Kelly did not cite any constitutional concerns about Biden’s plan — a point of contention with some on the political right — but rather framed her uncertainty about the plan based on a lack of definitive instruction from the administration.

Business groups nationally have started to pelt the administration with questions about how the vaccine or testing mandate would work. The New York Times reported Monday that the Consumer Brands Association, for instance, sent a list of 19 questions to the president asking about topics including what documents would be accepted as proof of vaccination; would government or businesses be responsible for vaccination tracking; and what are the consequences of falsifying a vaccination status.

In her brief interview with the Journal-World, Kelly did not cite any specific details she is hoping to learn about the vaccination and testing mandate, but did continue to call for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.

“We are doing everything we can do,” Kelly said of efforts of her administration. “What we need now is for those Kansans who have not gotten vaccinated yet to step up and get vaccinated. We know that is the only way we can ensure businesses stay open, production lines stay online and that our kids can stay in school.”

In a separate press briefing following the economic development announcement, Kelly also stopped short of endorsing a proposal by Biden that states require all teachers and staff to be vaccinated. It is unclear whether all schools would fall under a new regulation being crafted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that would require all businesses of more than 100 employees to require vaccination or testing of those who haven’t received a vaccine.

But at a speech at a Washington middle school on Friday, Biden did call on governors to take action. “I’m calling on all of the governors to require vaccination for all teachers and staff,” Biden said, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Kelly on Tuesday was asked about Biden’s call to governors and whether she is considering any actions that could make such a vaccine requirement for teachers and staff a reality in Kansas.

“I’ll be honest with you, I have not heard that,” Kelly said of Biden’s call for vaccinations of teachers and staff. “I’ve heard the businesses over 100 employees, so I really can’t comment on that.”

Later, Kelly made comments indicating that a mandate may not be her preference on how to proceed.

“I prefer that we continue down the path that we’ve been on, which is working cooperatively with businesses” and others, Kelly said.

Kelly is up for reelection next year and is expected to face a strong challenge from Republicans, who nationally have made picking up the Kansas governor’s seat a priority.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the leading Republican candidate expected to challenge Kelly in the general election, has come out against Biden’s plan.

“No president has the legal authority to decree a national vaccine mandate or to punish private businesses that refuse to discriminate against employees based on their health status,” Schmidt said in a statement last week.

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