Sen. Tom Hawk

The Legislature worked quickly last week to wrap up its most critical work of regular session. This was two weeks ahead of schedule to get everyone home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. I am now home and practicing social distancing for up to a month. I encourage all of you to do the same.

The Legislature is now adjourned until April 27 and Sine Die – the ceremonial last day of session – is set for May 21, 2020. However, the adjournment resolution granted authority to the Legislative Coordinating Council, the committee comprised of legislative leadership that governs the Legislature, to determine whether to reconvene before April 27 or postpone to anytime between April 27 and May 21.

I’m hopeful we will get to return to finish up business we didn’t get to before we shut down. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, you’re always welcome to contact me at 785-537-8000.

COVID-19 RESPONSE

I want to commend Governor Kelly, Secretary Lee Norman, and the rest of her administration for their leadership during this serious and unprecedented time. There is no doubt Governor Kelly has the safety, health, and well-being of all Kansans in mind, even when she has had to make incredibly difficult decisions. We will all be facing new sets of challenges, but we must not forget that we are in this together.

Below are links to resources you may need in the coming days, weeks, or months:

•    Updates on the status of COVID-19 in Kansas can be found at http://www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus/

•    File for unemployment benefits online at www.GetKansasBenefits.com

•    Learn more about the resources available for businesses from the Kansas Department of Commerce at www.kansascommerce.gov/covid-19-response/

•    To apply for the Hospitality Industry Relief Emergency (HIRE) Fund, visit www.kansascommerce.gov/HIREfund

In the past few days, Gov. Kelly has issued executive orders that:

•    Temporarily expands telemedicine and encourages physicians to utilize telemedicine services when appropriate to avoid unnecessary patient travel and to allow out-of-state doctors to see patients in Kansas, pending they have a valid license in another state. (EO 20-08).

•    Suspends certain rules and regulations related to motor carriers to expedite the delivery of much-needed supplies, including toilet paper (EO 20-09).

•    Prohibits foreclosures and evictions until May 1, 2020, when financial hardship directly or indirectly caused by COVID-10 be the reason a homeowner or renter can’t make payments (EO 20-10).

•    Prohibits the disconnection of utilities and internet service until May 1, 2020, or until the State of Disaster Emergency expires, whichever comes first (EO 20-05).

•    Prohibits waste removal providers, trash and recycling, from cancelling or suspending commercial or residential services for Kansas residences and businesses (EO 20-11).

•    Extends deadlines for driver’s licenses and vehicle registration renewals and regulations; renewals must be completed within 60 days of the expiration of the Order (EO 20-12).

•    Extends tax filing deadlines to July 15, 2020, and waiving any interest and penalties for returns and payments made on or before July 15, 2020 (EO 20-13).

A complete list of executive orders can be found online at https://governor.kansas.gov/newsroom/executive-orders/.

Gov. Kelly has signed into law the following bills that will provide additional relief:

•    UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: Senate Bill 27 extends unemployment eligibility for workers who started to file unemployment claims on or after January 1, 2020. These workers would be eligible for a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits, instead of the current effective maximum of 16 weeks. This passed the Senate 31-3 and the House unanimously.

•    EDUCATION WAIVER: Senate Bill 142 expands education waiver authority during disaster emergencies. Under current law, students are required by statute to attend at least 1,116 school hours per school year. This bill allows local school boards to receive waivers for this requirement under a state of disaster declaration, with the understanding that they will utilize continuous learning for their students during this time. The bill also codifies legislative intent that school districts continue to pay all hourly employees during a disaster shutdown. This bill passed the Senate 30-4 and the House 117-2.

•    JUDICIAL BRANCH: Senate Bill 102 expands authority of the judicial branch in time of disaster, permitting the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to issue an order extending statutory deadlines or time limitations on court proceedings and authorizes video conferencing. This bill passed the Senate 27-7 and the House 113-5.

INITIAL BUDGET PASSES

The last item of business before adjourning on Thursday, March 19, was getting a basic budget to the Governor. The budget applies to FY 2020, which ends June 30, 2020, and FY 2021, which begins July 1, 2020. Highlights of the budget contained in Conference Committee Report for Senate Bill 66 include:

•    COVID-19 response funds of $50 million to the general fund and $15 million to the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. Additionally, funds that had been proposed for paying off the PMIB loan from 2017 and paying off KPERS layering were put on hold to ensure there’s enough cash on hand to adequately address response needs.

•    KPERS: Next fiscal year includes a payment of $150.4 million for KPERS as well as $25.8 million to restore funding for the KPERS-School layering payments.

•    REIMBURSEMENT INCREASES: This budget provides a 5% increase in the provider reimbursement rates for the Medicaid Home and Community Based Services Intellectual/Developmental Disability waiver a 1% increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rate for nursing facilities for FY 2021.

•    MENTAL HEALTH: Funding was allocated for eight acute care psychiatric beds for youth in Hays; for Senior Care Act Services; and, for grant funding for Community Mental Health Centers for FY 2021.

•    K-12 SCHOOLS: $5 million in funding is restored for the School Safety and Security Grants for FY 2021 and a proviso is included to extend the sunset on the high density at-risk weighting.

This is a good budget that exercises an abundance of caution as we don’t know what the future holds. There were many items not addressed in this budget that will hopefully be addressed in the omnibus budget when we return in late April.

TRANSPORTATION PLAN

A 10-year transportation plan also passed the Kansas Legislature before we adjourned. This is the fourth 10-year plan Kansas has adopted. These plans are critical to the maintenance and expansion of our infrastructure, the safety of drivers, and the creation of good-paying jobs. This plan, named the Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Plan, includes:

•    Preservation projects: maintenance, repairs, or replacement of existing infrastructure;

•    Preservation plus projects: enhances preservation projects by adding safety or technology elements including, but not limited to, paved shoulders, passing lanes, traffic signals, intelligent transportation system elements or laying broadband fiber or the conduit for broadband fiber.

•    Expansion and economic opportunity projects: improves access, relieves congestion, and enhances economic development opportunities.

•    Modernization projects: improves safety, condition, or service of the highway system.

Additionally, the bill requires the Program to provide for assistance to cities and counties in meeting their responsibilities for transportation improvements. It also provides for programs such as railroad, aviation, public transit, transportation technology, and multimodal (bike, pedestrian) programs. Additionally, it creates grants for construction projects that expand and improve broadband service in Kansas.

These are just some of the highlights of this transportation plan. A lot of work went into this plan and a lot of good will come of it for years to come. It is truly a great way to move Kansas forward.

Read more of Sen. Hawk’s Capital Report in tomorrow’s paper.