Oh my, omicron: New Kansas bill protects ‘right to die.’ Why is GOP on COVID’s side?

·3 min read

Viruses mutate to survive. Generally speaking, so do politicians.

With omicron, the new, highly mutated COVID-19 “variant of concern” alarming the markets and the epidemiologists, it shouldn’t be impossible to imagine that Republicans could make one more shift.

In recent years, they’ve abandoned their long-standing support for free trade and NATO, smiling on as Donald Trump repeatedly sided with Vladimir Putin over our own intelligence community.

Now the previously pro-business party is telling Mom and Pop that they can’t fire people who pose a health risk to their co-workers and customers.

With that kind of flexibility about what they believe, the GOP could easily do another 180 and stop siding with COVID-19.

Why they have at every turn made it harder for us to end this pandemic will be studied for some time. If they stay on the path they’re on, some future Timothy Snyder will publish “Injecting Bleach and Bathing in Borax: How ‘Freedom’ Prolonged a Pandemic and Hastened the Demise of American Democracy.”

But that’s not how it has to go. Republican radicals — no way does what they’re doing qualify as “conservative” — can change course again. They can stop abetting the contagion.

In Kansas, a new law will prohibit businesses from dismissing unvaccinated employees if the worker provides a written excuse from a doctor — we hear Sen. Roger Marshall is available — or claims a “sincere” religious belief. It’s unclear what religion says you should put yourself and others in danger, and then lament your persecution when others mind.

The bill, from the party that used to hate unnecessary regulation and lawsuits, requires the Kansas Department of Labor to investigate allegations of businesses not following the law. It authorizes the state attorney general’s office to go to court to enforce compliance.

Apparently, as Democratic state Sen. David Haley said, “people don’t avoid the plague anymore.”

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson brags that under the new bill, “families don’t have to face the holidays with the uncertainty that they could lose their livelihoods.” Lives, yes, but livelihoods — oh, also yes.

“There are people that do not want to take this vaccine, even at the expense of their own lives. So we’re here defending that liberty,” said Republican Sen. Dennis Pyle.

Remember when Republicans opposed “right to die” legislation?

That Gov. Laura Kelly signed this law, which almost all of her fellow Democrats voted against, is not just disappointing but downright craven. Because this law, and others like it, limits our ability to fight the pandemic with the best tool we’ve got, which is vaccination.

The longer we take to get everyone vaccinated, the more time the virus has to mutate in ways that make the shots less effective. No one knows yet whether the highly safe, highly effective vaccines we’ve got now are effective against the new variant, omicron.

Kelly knows she was wrong — or sure sounded like she did, when she refused to answer questions about this awful bill during the annual Christmas tree delivery to the governor’s residence. “We’re talking about Christmas trees here,” she told reporters.

Yeah? Well ho, ho, ho.

Later, she said in a statement that it’s just too late to “impose a federal standard.” We better hope that’s not true, and it doesn’t have to be.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson issued a more limited but just as wrongheaded executive order requiring state agencies not to make any employee get a vaccine. No federal intrusion, he says, even as he’s helping the global health emergency continue to intrude.

Meanwhile, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is busying himself suing localities and school districts over mask mandates. No local intrusion is allowed either, apparently.

Right now, there’s no political incentive for a return to good sense. And it’s useless to make an appeal to conscience to the same men who made sure Kevin Strickland didn’t get to hug his dying mother.

Only, when omicron or the COVID variant after that makes it 2020 all over again, history’s judgment may come sooner than they think.

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