Black Iowa students forced to sit in back of bus after dispute on band trip: lawsuit

Three Black Waukee high school students were told to ride home from a 2021 band trip in the back of a school bus after a white parent chaperone allegedly instigated an altercation with them that turned physical, according to a recently filed lawsuit and other documents.

The incident with the Northwest High School students followed a September 2021 marching band competition in Omaha, Nebraska, according to a letter penned by the attorney of one student who is suing the school district.

The letter — sent to the district’s superintendent in December 2021 — alleges the parent volunteer was perturbed that the students had gone to the bus before the competition’s awards ceremony had concluded because it was “disgraceful to their teammates.”

However, the students had gathered with two white students on the bus with the permission of the school’s band director and instrumental music teacher, the letter said. The students were members of the band’s color guard.

The parent volunteer told the students to get off the bus, dismissed the white students from the conversation, and, along with another white parent who joined a bit later, confronted the remaining Black students.

When one of the students attempted to leave the conversation to find the band director, one of the parents allegedly grabbed him by the arm to prevent his departure. That led to a heated exchange between the now-former student who filed the lawsuit — Bailey Hilson, then a high school senior — and the parent who had allegedly grabbed the other student.

The parent “responded by ‘getting in the face’ of Bailey, shouting at her, and thumping her in the forehead with her finger,” wrote Jerry Foxhoven, the Des Moines attorney who represents Hilson.

The parent could not be reached to comment for this article, but an investigative report produced by the school district said the woman denied touching the students.

The woman admitted to waving a finger in Hilson’s face, the report said. She alleged Hilson was using profanity and saying hateful things.

The band instructor and instrumental music teacher intervened a short time later, and the Black students asked to be moved from the bus for the ride back to Waukee because the parent volunteers would be on it.

“This mature and reasonable request was denied, and the three Black students were instructed to ‘sit in the back of the bus’ and not interact with the adults on the way home,” Foxhoven wrote. “This direction … created a pathetic scene reminiscent of our nation’s history of segregation in public transportation. The students, left with no other choice, followed instructions.”

A ‘sham’ investigation

The lawsuit alleges that a school district investigation into the incident was too focused on the students’ conduct and that the district’s actions thereafter did not adequately address — and perhaps exacerbated — the emotional distress of Hilson.

Assistant Principal Christie Pitts conducted the investigation and concluded that the parent volunteer had grabbed or touched two students, and someone at the district notified the Waukee Police Department of the alleged physical contact.

The woman was barred from volunteering at the high school and from attending at least one home football game, according to Foxhoven’s letter. The district further pledged to have a “restorative conversation” with the students and to reevaluate the requirements for its parent volunteers. It sent a message to band students and their families that said “the students involved were not at fault.”

“We regret the breakdown in the system that led to this event,” said the message, which was signed by the school’s two band directors. “You can be assured that we are taking proactive steps with administration to help ensure that such an incident does not happen again.”

Amy Varcoe, a spokesperson for the school district, declined to comment specifically on the allegations contained in the lawsuit but said the district “strongly denies” them.

“Waukee Community School District maintains a strong commitment to a safe and collaborative environment for all students,” she said.

It’s unclear whether the police department investigated the incident. The department did not immediately respond to a request for information about a potential investigation, nor does it have jurisdiction over an alleged assault that might have been committed in another state.

The school district investigation’s findings largely align with the timeline of events that are detailed in Foxhoven’s letter. A video surveillance recording from the bus showed that one of the white students who was allowed to leave at the start of the altercation had only been briefly on the bus. The other white student who was dismissed from the altercation had been with the Black students for the duration of their time on the bus, the investigative report said.

That white student called the parent volunteers “racist bigots” on the bus ride back to Waukee, the report said.

The lawsuit called the school district investigation a sham, in part, because it ignored the potential racial aspects of the incident. It further claimed that the district gave improper support to the parent volunteers by investigating a bullying complaint one of them subsequently made against Hilson.

A school investigation into that complaint found that there was an ongoing “substantial student conflict” between the volunteer’s child and Hilson as a result of the band trip, Foxhoven’s letter said.

The lawsuit was filed last month after Hilson lodged a complaint against the district with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in July.

The commission issued Hilson a right-to-sue letter in September, which is required for lawsuits in state district court that allege violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

The lawsuit names the school district, Superintendent Brad Buck and former Principal Fairouz Bishara-Rantisi as defendants, but not the parent volunteers. It seeks an unspecified amount of money to compensate Hilson for her suffering that resulted from the district’s alleged racial discrimination and a reimbursement for attorneys’ fees.

The lawsuit says Hilson “suffered severe emotional distress, causing her to miss school, struggle with depression and feel isolated and unsupported at school, causing her to miss the true joy normally experienced by a student in their senior year of high school.”

The school district has yet to file a response to the lawsuit in district court. There are no other pending lawsuits from the other students against the district, according to state and federal court records.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Black, straight-A student was in ‘racially hostile environment’ at Iowa school


The repeated racial harassment of a Black, straight-A student at an Ottumwa middle school was not adequately addressed by the school district and might have led to the student’s diminished academic performance, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The department on Monday outlined the findings of its investigation into the Ottumwa Community School District’s handling of multiple harassment complaints during the past two school years. The department’s Office for Civil Rights concluded that “district students subjected a Black middle school student to racial harassment so pervasive that it constituted a racially hostile environment and that the district failed to take necessary steps to protect the student,” the department said Monday.

The department determined that the district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination at public schools.

A letter the department sent to the school district detailed numerous instances of harassment from five different students, at least four of whom were white. They included:

— The repeated use of racial slurs such as the N-word, slave, blackie and cotton picker.
— Taunting the Black student with monkey noises.
— Students mocking Black Power by raising their fists during class.
— A student referred to KKK — most often the acronym for the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan — as the “Kool Kids Klub.”
— A student knelt on a bottle that contained a dark-colored fluid and said, “It can’t breathe,” to mimic the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.
— One student allegedly said, “I can send you back to the cotton fields,” and thanked the Black student for his cotton shirt.

The department’s letter that was released publicly was heavily redacted to remove specific dates, names and other information. The investigation was spurred by the complaint of someone who is associated with the student. Their relationship was not disclosed in the letter.

An inadequate response

An Ottumwa teacher at Evans Middle School was among the first to address the harassment in 2020 and said she would speak to an unspecified number of students individually and further supply a list of the “alleged bullying students” to an assistant principal, according to the department.

As the harassment continued, the school’s principal — who was not identified by name in the department’s letter — suggested “restorative circle” discussions in which classes participated “to repair harm, educate, build community and reflect on the topic of race.”

The script that was developed to help guide those discussions did not specifically address racially offensive language — including the N-word — and didn’t say racial harassment was prohibited, the department reported.

Despite the discussions, the use of the N-word against the Black student became more frequent as the school year went on, but the student did not report it “because he did not want to be known as a ‘snitch’ or a ‘rat’ by other students and because he did not believe that the school would do anything in response to such a report,” the department’s letter said.

In 2021, the Iowa Department of Education received complaints regarding harassment of the student and contacted the school district. However, the state department “indicated that it would not investigate the incidents but would be available as a resource for the district.”

A spokesperson for the state education department did not immediately respond to a request for information about what might trigger an investigation into racial harassment complaints.

Among the new allegations was the mimicking of George Floyd’s murder by kneeling on a bottle that contained dark liquid. The principal investigated the incident but concluded it wasn’t racial harassment because it wasn’t part of a “current pattern of behavior,” the federal department said. The student received in-school lunch detention for an unspecified number of days.

Two students who were shown to have repeatedly harassed the Black student were punished with out-of-school suspensions.

After several in-school investigations in early 2021, the district told the students to stay at least 10 feet apart and altered the accused students’ classes and lunch to help prevent contact. The district allegedly denied a request for a no-contact order to fully prevent communication between the Black student and the others.

The use of racial pejoratives allegedly continued into 2022, when the Black student received his first B grades in classes. All of his previous grades had been As, according to the person associated with the student.

The fallout

The U.S. Department of Education reached an agreement with the school district to resolve the civil rights complaint against it. The district has agreed to pay for the Black student’s past and future therapy that is the result of the harassment.

The district also agreed to take steps to prevent future harassment by publishing an anti-harassment statement, revising policies, training employees and educating students.

There are no pending lawsuits in state or federal court against the school district for the harassment, according to publicly available court records.

The department’s Monday letter noted that the person who had spurred its investigation could file a lawsuit in federal court regardless of its findings.

There are rules that govern lawsuits in state court that are based on violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Potential litigants must obtain a right-to-sue letter from the Iowa Civil Rights Commission after filing a complaint with the commission.

It’s possible for there to be concurrent investigations into the Ottumwa district by the commission and by the U.S. Department of Education, said Kaitlin Smith, a spokesperson for the commission. However, Smith could not say whether the commission is investigating a complaint against the district because they are generally confidential.

School and state records indicate Aaron Ruff started as principal at Evans Middle School in 2020 but is now the principal of one of the district’s elementary schools. Ruff did not respond to a request for comment.

A district spokesperson did not respond to a request for the dates of Ruff’s tenure as principal at the middle school. The district announced in February 2022 its choice for interim principal for this school year.

“We will continue to focus on equity for every student by expanding how we gather student voices, reviewing our policies and procedures, and ensuring stakeholders know how to report issues of harassment that could occur in our schools,” said Mike McGrory, the district’s superintendent, in a press release that addressed the agreement with the U.S. Department of Education. “In the weeks to come, we will continue to review and train our staff on how to better identify issues of harassment and how to build a safe, supportive and collaborative culture.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Federal government has given $800 million to keep indebted farmers afloat

More than 13,000 farmers have benefited from nearly $800 million in federal debt relief, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Tuesday.

The assistance came from a new federal initiative to erase farmers’ loan delinquencies to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and private lenders or to resolve their remaining debts after foreclosure.

Going forward, the USDA is expected to give hundreds of millions of dollars of relief to farmers who are facing bankruptcy or foreclosure and to those who are at risk of missing payments on their loans.

“The star of the show here is the farmer,” Vilsack told reporters. “The person that really matters is the farmer, and keeping that farmer, him or her, on the land so that he or she can take care of their family and their community.”

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency gives direct loans to farmers and guarantees loans from banks, credit unions and others to farmers for up to 95% of their value.

The government’s farm loan obligations for the 2022 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, totaled about $5.8 billion, according to USDA records. States with the highest obligations included Iowa at about $484 million, Arkansas at $424 million, Oklahoma at $366 million and Nebraska at $341 million. Virginia’s overall obligations totaled over $67.5 million.

Of those with delinquent direct loans, the average farmer who has failed to make regular payments for at least two months received about $52,000 under a “distressed borrowers” initiative, which is funded with more than $3 billion by the Inflation Reduction Act. That eliminated their delinquencies.

For those with government-backed loans from private entities, the average benefit was about $172,000.

The total number of farmers in the two categories was about 11,000.

For those with direct loans who went bankrupt and still owed money — about 2,100 borrowers — the average benefit was about $101,000. Vilsack said those bankruptcies happened at least a year ago but did not say how long ago they might have occurred.

States with farmers who received the most relief included Oklahoma and Texas, Vilsack said, whereas farmers in the northeastern states of Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island were among those who received the least. Those northeastern states had a combined total of federal farm loan obligations of just $11 million during the 2022 fiscal year, USDA records show.

“Virtually every state in the country has a borrower or several borrowers or groups of borrowers that are impacted by this,” Vilsack said. “I think you’re probably talking about some very, very small operators, and you’re probably talking about a few that would be considered to be mid- or large-sized operators. So it’s across the board.”

The debt relief initiative is the subject of a new lawsuit by non-white farmers who claim that the government improperly reneged on its plans to forgive loan debts of “socially disadvantaged” farmers, which was part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. That initial version of the plan was challenged by lawsuits that claimed it was discriminatory.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 amended the debt relief program to eliminate its prescribed goal to help Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native American farmers. Vilsack described the farmers who have been aided by the amended initiative as those who “couldn’t get credit anywhere else.”

On Sept. 21, Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Newport News, sent a letter to Vilsack urging the federal government “to provide swift and equitable relief for borrowers with at-risk agricultural operations” and “take immediate action to ensure that producers with farm loans guaranteed by the USDA are protected from foreclosure.”

The letter was signed by 11 other members of Congress including Virginia Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond.

The USDA suspended its foreclosures of direct loans in January 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, which was especially tough on livestock producers. Meatpacker closures because of the virus abruptly choked demand for the animals and led in some cases to mass euthanasia. The supply costs for farmers have also soared, notably for fertilizers.

This story originally appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister publication of The Virginia Mercury within the States Newsroom network.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

'The radical left’s agenda': Mike Pence gives a glimpse at the Republican election strategy in Iowa

CARROLL, Ia. — Former Vice President Mike Pence lauded three of Iowa’s prominent Republican leaders in a visit to the state Saturday and lambasted Democrats and the Biden administration over a number of issues that could be key to election success later this year.

“It’s amazing to think how far our country has fallen in just 15 months,” Pence told delegates and others who gathered at the Republican 4th Congressional District convention in Carroll. “Joe Biden has done more damage to America in his first year and a half than any president in my lifetime. … The good news is, despite all the setbacks we’ve seen in the last year and a half, the Republican Party is fighting back all across America and all across Iowa.”

Pence, who ended his tenure with former President Donald Trump at odds over the validity of the 2020 election they lost, touted the former administration’s role in packing the federal court system — including the U.S. Supreme Court — with conservative judges, backing abortion foes and reinforcing the “strongest military in the history of mankind.”

Pence said he was invited to the Saturday event by U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, the first-term congressman who represents the district, who Pence said has “won admirers around America” for his integrity, faith and conservative ideas.

READ: 'I don't like being called stupid': Trump worries about how his thinking is viewed

On U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Pence said: “When I was president of the Senate, there was no more-courageous or principled conservative in the United States Senate than Sen. Chuck Grassley.”

And Pence said Gov. Kim Reynolds is “one of the most important conservative voices in our nation today.”

Pence, Feenstra and Grassley touched on several topics that are poised to factor heavily in Republicans’ bids to retake control of the House and Senate this fall.

Some were perennial issues such as immigration — “You can’t be a sovereign nation if you have open borders,” Grassley said — and gun rights.

READ: 'The frustration is deep': In Wyandotte County, Kansas, anger growing over political setbacks

Others were new. Pence and Feenstra cited conservative battles against “the radical left’s agenda” in regard to school curriculum about racism and conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms. Pence credited the issue for recent Republican gains in Virginia.

“Parents are rising up and taking their schools back,” Pence said.

They also knocked Biden for recent inflation and high fuel prices. Feenstra said “we can be energy independent right here in Iowa with our biofuels,” and Pence rebuffed Biden’s efforts to blame fuel prices on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “It’s the war on energy that is driving up gasoline prices, and we gotta bring it to an end.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn, in a call with reporters on Friday, criticized the Trump administration for tax cuts that were too favorable for wealthy people and for investing too little in infrastructure such as bridges, roads and broadband internet networks.

READ: 'God speaks to us': Trump rallygoer explains that Princess Diana is still alive

“Mike Pence can’t rewrite his role in the disastrous Trump-Pence administration,” Wilburn said.

Grassley did not shy away from his affiliation with Trump on Saturday and highlighted his role in blocking former President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nomination.

“Together, President Trump and I cemented a conservative 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court,” Grassley said.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Iowa’s bird flu death toll tops 13 million

Two more poultry flocks in Iowa — including one with more than 5 million egg-laying chickens — were infected by a deadly and highly contagious avian influenza, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship reported Friday.

The new detections of the virus were in a massive commercial egg-laying flock in Osceola County, and in a flock of about 88,000 turkeys in Cherokee County.

The virus was confirmed in those flocks on Thursday, the end of the first month of such outbreaks in the state this year. There were a total of 12 detections in nine counties that affected at least 13.2 million birds.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig has said the threat of infection could loom for another two months as wild birds migrate through the state. Those birds are the likely carriers of the virus and can be asymptomatic if they are infected. The virus is often deadly for domestic birds.

Infected flocks are culled as quickly as possible to limit the risk of transmitting the virus to other nearby facilities.

The vast majority of the affected birds in Iowa have been egg-laying chickens due to the size of their flocks. The virus was previously found in a Buena Vista egg-laying flock of more than 5.3 million.

The state is the country’s top egg producer and has about 60 million laying hens, Naig has said. The infected flocks account for about 21% of that total. Naig expects food prices to increase because of the virus.

“If we continue to see the spread of (highly pathogenic avian influenza) and affecting more and more sites … I think you could very well see a change in price and even availability,” he said in an appearance on Iowa Press on Friday. “Now, the good news about the poultry industry is they can restock quickly — they can rebuild populations.”

The virus is unlikely to infect humans, and eggs and meat from infected flocks are discarded.

In 2015, a deadly bird flu outbreak led to the culling of more than 32 million birds in Iowa, which accounted for about two-thirds of the affected birds in the United States that year.

Iowa’s affected birds this year account for 59% of the country’s current 22.4 million total, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The virus has been detected in commercial and backyard flocks in about two dozen states.

The rate of the detections in Iowa has been accelerating. The first was March 1 in a backyard flock in Pottawattamie County. Half of the state’s detections so far occurred in the past week, and all of them were at commercial facilities.

“Maybe we’re approaching the end — maybe we’re just getting started,” Naig said of the virus detections. “Time will tell.”

.indent2Container { margin-left: 1em; border-left: solid 1px var(--brand_one); padding-left: 2em; }

Here are the flocks that were infected in Iowa in March:

March 1: A backyard flock of 42 chickens and ducks in Pottawattamie County.
March 6: A commercial flock of about 50,000 turkeys in Buena Vista County.
March 10: A commercial flock of about 916,000 egg-laying chickens in Taylor County.
March 17: A commercial flock of more than 5.3 million egg-laying chickens in Buena Vista County.
March 20: A backyard flock of 11 chickens and ducks in Warren County.
March 23: A commercial flock of about 54,000 turkeys in Buena Vista County.
March 25: A commercial flock of about 250,000 young hens in Franklin County.
March 28: A commercial flock of about 28,000 turkeys in Hamilton County.
March 28: A commercial flock of about 1.5 million egg-laying chickens in Guthrie County.
March 29: A commercial flock of about 35,500 turkeys in Buena Vista County.
March 31: A commercial flock of more than 5 million egg-laying chickens in Osceola County.
March 31: A commercial flock of about 88,000 turkeys in Cherokee County.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Kansas lawmaker tries to sidestep Covid bill -- and ends up casting deciding vote for passage

TOPEKA — Rep. Linda Featherston resisted until forced to cast a vote Friday on a bill expanding hospital and nursing home immunity from lawsuits tied to the COVID-19 pandemic that was merged with provisions difficult for the Democrat to support.

In an unusual procedural move, House Republicans struggling to find the minimum 63 votes among 125 representatives for the bundle known as Senate Bill 286 voted to reject Featherston’s request to be allowed to abstain. House Speaker Ron Ryckman asked her repeatedly to press a “yes” or “no” button at her desk. She tried to avoid eye contact with Ryckman.

Featherston had taken the lead in assembling a House bill to increase criminal penalties for people convicted of interfering with activities of a hospital and of assaulting a hospital employee. Those policy pieces were, to her regret, blended with broadened and extending until January 2023 pandemic-related policies associated with civil immunity of hospitals and nursing homes treating COVID-19 patients.

She tried, but failed, to have the bill sent back to a House-Senate committee for revision. She also asked permission of House colleagues to allow her to vote “present” on the bill containing provisions she admired and provisions she loathed. In a vote requiring members to stand in support of her plea or remain seated if opposed, she was ordered to cast a vote for or against the bill.

If Featherston refused to vote as a form of protest, she risked being reprimanded, censured or expelled by the House.

“As I talk to friends on both sides of the aisle in this chamber,” said Featherston, an Overland Park Democrat, “I hear the phrase a lot: ‘Can’t we just do one good thing without messing it up?’ Can we not just stand for the people and for what is right once, without linking it to something that causes so many of us distress?”

She said her priority was to stand with 70% of emergency room nurses and 50% of emergency room physicians who reported being assaulted at work.

As it turned out, Featherston ended up casting a “yes” vote that was the 63rd in favor of the bundled legislation — the fewest required for passage in the House. The final tally in the House was 64-51, with Republicans and Democrats opposed. It cleared the Senate on a vote of 24-16. That sent the bill to Gov. Laura Kelly’s desk.

“This took quite a bit of effort to get to a spot where both the Senate and House cold come to an agreement,” said Rep. Brad Ralph, R-Dodge City.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said the bill had been “held hostage” to create a path to insert expanded immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits requested by the Kansas Hospital Association. He said the organization was anxious that hospitals would be targeted with lawsuits over decisions on use of ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine or on vaccination status.

“Many lawyers much brighter than I am actually believe that those tweaks may have expanded the immunity given to hospitals and other health care providers to the extent that it goes far beyond even COVID-related matters, and could result in essence in a prohibition against most medical malpractice litigation for injured patients over the next 10 months,” said Carmichael, who voted against the bill.

Across the rotunda, Sen. Mark Steffen, a Republican from Hutchinson and an anesthesiologist, urged his colleagues to oppose the bill. He said the immunity provisions would allow hospitals to “lower their quality of care” under guise of a pandemic that should be declared over.

“The faith in our hospitals in the area has dramatically diminished when people get COVID,” Steffen said. “The last place they want to go is the hospital. Things are upside down. By voting no on this bill, we have the opportunity to start to right the ship.”

Several House Republicans also opposed the package after expressing concerns about access to ivermectin — which studies repeatedly show provides no benefit to preventing or treating COVID-19, the disease that has killed 8,397 Kansans and sickened one-fourth of the state’s population in the past two years.

Rep. Michael Houser, R-Columbus, described his personal battle with the virus. He falsely claimed ivermectin has been proven to lessen disease “from taking you down” and said he couldn’t find a doctor in all of Cherokee County who would give him the drug. Houser said he was told “we can’t give that to you” because it was against hospital protocol.

“I firmly believe that if I had not fallen through that gap, and I’d had somebody that would prescribe that for me early on in the stage, I wouldn’t have missed three weeks of session, and I still wouldn’t be huffing and puffing when I walk from my truck to the elevator,” Houser said.

Rep. Pat Proctor, a Leavenworth Republican, said he voted against the bill because he wasn’t going to participate in “perpetuating the lie that we are still in a ‘COVID-19 emergency.’ ”

“This lie has been used to destroy lives,” he said. “It has been used to destroy livelihoods. It needs to end. And it won’t end until we sunset all of the emergency measures, including this legal immunity.”

Eighteen House Democrats signed a statement in opposition of the bill because they believed it went too far beyond the reform crafted by Featherston.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.