Kansas Republicans link remapping law to pro-ivermectin measure

Topeka, Kan. – Kansas’ top Republicans appeared to get the new congressional district lines they wanted this week thanks to bargaining in the Legislative Assembly. Then, hours after the map became law, the GOP leader who would have made the deal appeared to backtrack on it.

A Republican medical lawmaker said he and the state Senate leader have a “mutual agreement” to secure his vote and another crucial yes to a card that politically hurts Kansas’ lone Democrat in Congress. Before they delivered those votes, a bill pushed by the medical legislator to promote fringe anti-vaccine ideas and potentially dangerous COVID-19 treatments was approved by the committee.

But Senate Speaker Ty Masterson quickly sent Sen. Mark Steffen’s vaccine-COVID measure back to committee and stripped Steffen and two Conservative colleagues of committee assignments. The lawmakers’ work week ended Friday with a spotlight on tensions between GOP conservatives.

The infighting looks likely to continue, complicating Republicans’ efforts to make the most of their Kansas legislative supermajorities as Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly faces a tough re-election race this year.

“You better watch these people bouncing back from whatever was supposed to destroy them,” Senator Alicia Straub, one of the disciplined lawmakers, said in a statement after two reporters tracked her down during a Thursday night hotel buffet and a sponsored reception. by county treasurers. “These are the people of God and you must not play with them.”

Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, said he didn’t reach a deal with Steffen. But he acknowledged “lots of conversations” with Steffen and Straub on “lots of topics”.

As for senator discipline, Masterson said that to promote unity among Republicans, “these changes were necessary,” without giving further details.

Steffen declined to comment on Friday.

Republicans overruled Kelly’s veto on their redistricting plan, carving out vote-rich territory for Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids in Kansas City, Kansas, out of her district. The map is expected to face a legal challenge, with Democrats and Republicans already battling for a majority in the US House.

Masterson needed two tries for a Senate waiver. Steffen, Straub and fellow conservative Sen. Dennis Pyle broke with Republican leaders and voted against overriding Kelly’s veto on Monday. The following day, Steffen and Straub voted yes while Pyle abstained.

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Between the two Senate redistricting votes, the house health committee approved the COVID-19 bill. This would protect doctors who prescribe the anti-worm drug ivermectin and other drugs for off-label uses to treat COVID-19 and prevent those doctors from facing penalties for COVID-19 treatments.

Steffen, a bolo tie-friendly anesthesiologist and pain management specialist who lives about 80 miles northwest of Wichita, is being investigated by the state medical board — for public comment on COVID-19, he said. He admitted writing prescriptions for ivermectin that pharmacies refused to fill.

His measure also weakens state vaccination requirements for children enrolled in schools or daycares by allowing parents to easily request religious exemptions to avoid now-standard vaccines for more than a dozen diseases, including measles. , chickenpox and poliomyelitis. Steffen is a vocal vaccine skeptic.

In a Kansas City radio interview on Wednesday, Steffen said the events gave him a chance to air his concerns and “make progress on all fronts.”

He added: “I was able to meet the right people to voice all these concerns and we came to a mutual agreement.”

With the new redistricting law in effect Thursday, Masterson used the Senate president’s power to route and redirect bills to send Steffen’s ivermectin bill to the health committee. It only took a moment.

Shortly after, Masterson announced that he had demoted Steffen and Straub from committee vice-chairs and removed them each from another committee. Pyle lost two committee assignments.

Straub, who lives 50 miles further northwest of Wichita than Steffen, has been one of his constant allies in the Senate.

Pyle, a farmer from far northeast Kansas, once brought a container of stink bait to a debate, using it as a prop to protest a tax bill. He has clashed with Masterson on several occasions and pushed his own redistricting plans this year.

He compared Masterson to the troll-like character Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” fantasy books and movies. He said the Senate president “loves the ring so much he can’t give up his power.”

“If that’s what Kansas wants, an establishment-run government, you know, that’s what they’re getting and it’s a demonstration of that here,” Pyle said of the discipline. .

It’s not clear that Masterson means Steffen’s Bill will be a victim. The Senate Health Committee plans to resume it next week.

“He needs some tweaking that requires further consideration,” Masterson spokesman Mike Pirner said.

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