Lawmaker Decries Holocaust Comment From Anti-Vaccine Mandate Activist at Public Session

Kansas state Sen. Pat Petey decried a Holocaust comment from an anti-vaccine mandate activist at a public session Friday.

Kansas City resident Daran Duffy and two members of his family wore large yellow Stars of David on their chests at a session for a joint legislative committee in reference to the stars Jews were forced to wear in Germany under the Nazis.

Petey, a Democrat, objected so strongly that the committee's GOP chairwoman gaveled her down.

"You are not respecting Jewish people," she said to Duffy. "You are desecrating that memory."

Senate President Ty Masterson later tweeted that GOP senators rejected such analogies "in the strongest possible terms," adding, "Such comparisons are inappropriate and bear no resemblance to the issues we are debating today."

A few critics have compared President Joe Biden's mandates to the Holocaust, which killed millions of Jews during World War II, despite sharp criticism for doing so. Most mandate critics tend to be anti-vaccine and some repeat widespread misinformation about COVID vaccines, The Associated Press reported.

On Friday, the legislative committee endorsed a proposal to make it easier for workers to claim religious exemptions to COVID vaccine mandates and another to provide unemployment benefits to workers fired for refusing to get vaccinated. Both are in response to Biden's vaccine mandates applying to more than 100 million workers.

Influential Kansas business groups have strong doubts about Republican proposals aimed at financially protecting workers that refuse COVID vaccinations while some anti-mandate activists believe it's not enough.

Republican lawmakers forced a Thanksgiving-week special session of the GOP-controlled legislature to consider the two GOP proposals for resisting the mandate. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has expressed opposition to Biden's mandates but has not endorsed specific proposals. Lawmakers plan to meet again Nov. 22.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Anti-Mask, Pat Petey, Mandate
Rally goers protest vaccines and the current administration during the "World Wide Rally for Freedom", an anti-mask and anti-vaccine rally, at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire, May 15, 2021. Meanwhile in Kansas, state Sen. Pat Petey denounced comments from anti-vaccine mandate activists after they compared the mandate to the Holocaust. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

The proposals drew criticism from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. They fear that the unemployment measure will prove costly, raising the state taxes on businesses that help finance the benefits. They said the other measure could force business owners to choose between facing federal fines for granting exemptions too easily or facing lawsuits from aggrieved employees who don't get them.

"We didn't ask to be here," said chamber lobbyist Eric Stafford. "We ask that you not punish us."

Masterson, an Andover Republican, drafted the proposals after the committee heard two days of testimony from dozens of people, almost all of them strongly opposed to the mandates.

But the strongest vaccine-mandate critics were not pleased with Masterson's proposals, viewing them as too weak.

Some want to also allow exemptions for people who have non-religious objections to COVID-19 vaccines, while others want to prohibit private employers from imposing mandates.

"The draft bills we are being asked to comment on today, while a step in the right direction, don't go far enough to end the madness," said Gary Morgan, a resident of the Kansas City suburb of Shawnee.

Masterson shrugged off the criticism during a break in the committee's meeting. He serves on the panel.

"You know what? Good legislation doesn't make anybody happy," he said.

Support for a special legislative session among Republicans grew quickly this week after Masterson outlined his proposals Tuesday. The Kansas Constitution required Kelly to call a special session if two-thirds of both chambers demanded one by petition, and Republicans have big enough majorities. The full Legislature has been out of session since May and wasn't set to reconvene until January.

A third proposal on vaccine mandates emerged Friday from Democratic Rep. Vic Miller, of Topeka, but it's not yet clear whether Republican leaders will allow it to be considered during the special session. It would allow workers to sue their employers if those employers imposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates separate from the federal mandates and the workers were harmed by the shots.

"It is possible for employers to do it own their own, independent of the feds," Miller said. "When you cause injury, you should be responsible."

Mandate, Pat Petey, Anti-mask Protest
Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, makes a point during a meeting of a legislative committee looking for ways for the state to resist federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Some anti-vaccine mandate activists compared the mandate to the Holocaust in joint legislative committee session Friday, prompting Sen. Pat Petey to decry them. John Hanna/AP Photo