KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt wrote a letter to the University of Kansas and Kansas State University asking the universities to change their COVID-19 vaccine mandates for their employees to comply with the new state law.
The law was signed by Gov. Laura Kelly last week following a special session of the Kansas Legislature. The new law allows religious exemptions for people who have a strong moral objection to the vaccine.
Schmidt's letter, dated Nov. 24, said that both the universities' religious wavier forms and their timelines for submission violate the new law.
"I am aware that the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, in particular, are in violation of a new state law as described below and must immediately cease and desist from the same," the letter said. "I request that the Board of Regents promptly review whether any further changes in policy or practice are needed to bring KU, K-State or any other Regents institution into compliance with state law or with common-sense timelines."
The attorney general called the two universities' timelines for exemption forms "arbitrary and legally unsupported."
Both universities previously set a deadline of Nov. 15 for employees to submit a religious or medical wavier, and KU required employees to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8. Schmidt argued that making the deadline for vaccination a month before the federal mandate's deadline of Jan. 18 was not supported by the new law.
Schmidt said in the letter that the new law requires that an employer grant a religious waiver without asking about the sincerity of the religious exemption, and that the employer cannot have a "lengthy and intrusive" application process beyond a written statement signed by the employee.
Schmidt said that both KU and K-State had an "intrusive" written waiver application.
Kansas State's COVID-19 religious exemption request form states that employees requesting an exemption must have a "sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance that conflicts with the vaccine requirement."
As of Tuesday, the form consists of two open ended questions asking the applicant to describe their belief, explain why it should exempt them from getting vaccinated and provide any additional information.
"To be eligible for a possible exemption, you must first establish that your refusal to be vaccinated is based upon a sincere belief that is religious in nature," the form said. "A refusal to be vaccinated does not qualify for an exception if it is based upon personal preference, concerns about the possible effects of the vaccine, or political opinions. Employees must complete this form explaining the nature of their religious belief and how it conflicts with the COVID-19 vaccine requirement."
Both universities announced their employee mandates after Pres. Biden issued an executive order that required federal government employees and contractors to be vaccinated.
KU said that they have updated their processes after the attorney general's letter.
"We have updated our forms, processes and deadlines in an effort to align with both the Attorney General’s letter and the federal executive order," a spokesperson for KU said.
A spokesperson for K-State said that the university received a copy of the letter, but they will defer to the Kansas Board of Regents for comment.
KSHB 41 News has reached out the Kansas Board of Regents but has not heard back.