Kansas Lawmakers Desperately Want You To Know How Stupid They Are.
Jason TiddTopeka Capital-JournalView Comments0:300:40https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.496.0_en.html#goog_527204043
A group of Kansas senators charged with steering public health policy bundled unvetted anti-vax provisions to a bill that would promote ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as off-label drugs for COVID-19, despite medical authorities warning that neither drug has proven safe and effective for that use.
The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee approved a “gut and go” version of Senate Bill 381 Tuesday morning.
The bill started as a measure targeting purported off-label treatments for COVID-19, but quickly morphed into a broader bill that also targets school and day care requirements for any vaccine.
It is unclear if the bill’s passage out of committee has any bearing on the Senate’s upcoming vote to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the congressional redistricting map.
Sens. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, and Alicia Straub, R-Ellinwood, are aligned with advocates of fringe COVID-19 beliefs and both voted against the veto override on Monday. Senate GOP leadership gets one chance on Tuesday to try again, and they need to convince two legislators to switch their votes in order to reach the necessary two-thirds majority.
Steffen ignored a redistricting question from reporters after the COVID bill passed out of committee. He previously explained his redistricting vote as “individual rights trump any map,” without elaborating, referring questions to House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe.https://42e8fe379f30828da9709cff965c05e2.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“We’ll see what the Senate does,” Ryckman said Tuesday. “Anything of substance we’ll have a committee hearing and discussion.”
The “gut and go” COVID bill would not be required to go through a House committee.
Steffen, an anesthesiologist, has previously revealed that he is under investigation by the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts in connection to COVID-19. He has alleged the investigation is politically motivated and intended to silence him.
Promoting unproven drugs
Steffen has led the charge on SB 381. The Legislature did not immediately have copies available of the bill as approved by the committee or the amendments added on.
As originally written, the bill would have allowed doctors to prescribe ivermectin, HCQ and any other drug that is not a controlled substance as a treatment or preventative for COVID-19. Pharmacists would be forced to fill such prescriptions.
Doctors who prescribe the off-label drugs for COVID-19 would have criminal and civil liability protections. The board of healing arts would be barred from disciplining any health care workers for any reason related to the coronavirus pandemic.
A bill hearing two weeks ago featured several health care workers who supported the bill, while the state health board and two of the state’s largest hospital networks — Ascension Via Christi and the University of Kansas Health System — raised concerns.Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account
Health and medical authorities have warned against using ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine, which are FDA approved for other uses, but have not been proven to be safe or effective against COVID-19. National Institutes of Health guidelines list five other drugs for early treatment of the disease.
Steffen introduced an amendment on Tuesday that he said removed references to pharmacists while adding a section on COVID prescriptions. A copy of the changes was not released on the Legislature’s website by noon Tuesday. It is unclear if liability protections for doctors were removed, as Steffen had previously promised.
Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, said the amendment appeared to require pharmacists to fill off-label COVID prescriptions while simultaneously making them liable for any harm that could befall the patient.
Existing law already allows doctors to prescribe and pharmacists to fill off-label prescriptions. But patients wanting the drug have complained of difficulty finding pharmacies that will fill the prescriptions.
Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, said his concern is on getting the prescriptions filled. He said he knows there are pharmacists who are hesitant to fill them, suggesting the bill should have “teeth to protect that prescription.” He said he is “worried” because “some of these people are following CDC guidance only.”
“This is the final nail in the coffin if we don’t give them some protection,” Thompson said of patients getting off-label drugs.
Jenna Moyer, an assistant revisor of statutes, said the bill does not specify penalties for noncompliance.
Pharmacists typically have discretion to exercise professional judgment and not fill a prescription. The bill would strip them of that authority for COVID related prescriptions.
Sen. Kristen O’Shea, R-Topeka, raised concerns about how pharmacists would know whether the prescription is for COVID-19. While the bill requires pharmacists to fill prescriptions for COVID-19, the diagnosis would not have to be disclosed to the pharmacy.
“Could the physician argue that any drug is being used to prevent COVID 19 infection?” O’Shea asked.
“This would allow for the prescription of anything, with the exception of controlled substances,” Moyer said.
It is unclear under what circumstances pharmacists could reject a COVID prescription.
“I was really hoping there was someone from the board of pharmacy in the audience, because I’m not an expert on this particular statute,” Moyer said.
An attempt by O’Shea to limit the off-label provisions to only ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine was rejected. Steffen said her proposal “takes away the effectiveness of this bill.”
Steffen said the problem is “this one world order treatment plan” for COVID-19.
Lawmakers ‘gut and go’ with unvetted anti-vax provision
Public health committee members bundled additional COVID measures with the off-label drug bill, springing new policy issues on lawmakers without a chance for public testimony.
At least two Democrats and one Republican opposed the move because of the lack of public input.
“I am quite sure there are professionals out there, health care professionals, who would have issue with this particular provision, and we’ve not allowed a hearing or allowed that opposition to be heard,” Holscher said.
Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Baxter Springs and committee chair, defended the actions.
“It is something done every session. … I don’t want you to be misled that this is something unique,” he said.
Steffen successfully amended SB 381 by dumping in the contents of SB 398. Then Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, followed up with another successful amendment to dump the contents of the new SB 381 into the shell of gutted HB 2280.
The procedural move to strip out a bill’s contents and replace it with details from another bill is commonly known as a “gut and go.” The practice is controversial.
Because the original HB 2280 passed the House last session, a “gut and go” with the COVID provisions could expedite Steffen’s proposals.
Steffen had introduced SB 398 two weeks ago, and it was referred to the public health committee, which has not held a bill hearing.
The bill’s provisions would require schools and child care facilities to approve exemptions to any vaccine requirement if the parent signed a religious exemption statement. Schools and day cares would be barred from inquiring about the sincerity of the religious belief, which is defined to include moral and ethical objections.
The language mirrors the law targeting employer vaccine mandates that passed in November’s special session.
Religious and medical exemptions are already permitted under state law and regulation requiring several childhood immunizations to attend school and day care.
“I don’t see the problem with this at all,” Thompson said. “All we’re doing is reaffirming the people’s religious rights as enshrined in the state constitution of Kansas.”
Health experts say the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Children are at risk from COVID-19; the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has recorded 436 pediatric hospitalizations and seven deaths.https://omny.fm/shows/from-the-newsroom-the-topeka-capital-journal/chillin-in-the-statehouse-episode-33-off-label-pod/embed?style=cover
Thompson disagrees. He said the bill gives parents a choice, calling the vaccine “actually dangerous” and suggested it “has proven to be these kids are not at risk” from the disease. He said day care vaccination requirements put parents “in a horrible position.”
“We are talking about vaccinations of our children, and we’re talking about the safety of all, and we’re not talking about religion,” said Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City. “So I think it’s important that we keep it in the right context. We we have regulations in place for that very reason so that we don’t have outbreaks of measles or diphtheria within our day cares or schools.”
“This is not just COVID-19 vaccine,” O’Shea said. “It’s all childhood vaccinations. And for us to not even have time to fully read the bill and be asked to vote on it is bad policy.”
Hilderbrand defended the bill in cutting off debate as the meeting ran long.
“The crutch (sic) of the underlying bill was that the board of healing arts were investigating doctors for prescribing off-label drugs,” he said. “And the board of pharmacy was coming down on some pharmacists for filling off-label drugs. In this case, that is the crutch (sic), there is nothing dubious or life threatening in these bills. And on your child care scare, it’s already statute, already law, that they have religious exemptions.”
Jason Tidd is a statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Tidd.
Andrew Bahl of the Capital-Journal contributed reporting.