THE LEGISLATURE IS BACK IN SESSION
The legislature is back this week for what we hoped would be the wrap-up session. Most of the work will probably be completed by the end of the week. However, we are likely to have to return in May due to the Congressional map being throw out. More on that later in the newsletter. Here are issues that bear watching this week:
Today (Tuesday), the Senate overrode the Governor’s vetoes of the fairness in women’s sports bill (SB160), the parental bill of rights (SB58), the plastic bag ban bill (SB493), and the short-term insurance plans bill (SB199). There could be other attempts to override vetoes of bills including one that requires able-bodied adults without dependents who receive food assistance and don’t work at least 30 hours a week to participate in an employment and training program.
FOOD SALES TAX
During the break, Democrats turned up the heat on the food sales tax issue, urging House Republicans to agree to a bill that would eliminate the sales tax on food immediately. Before the Legislature adjourned for its spring break, a conference committee agreed to phase out the sales tax on food from 2023 to 2025. There’s no indication that the Republican lawmakers are abandoning that position
A bill placing new limits on advanced ballot drop boxes awaits action in the House. The Senate voted 21-17 to approve the bill that would limit one drop box to every 30,000 voters, which would effectively eliminate 80 out of 191 boxes statewide, although a couple of the urban counties could add back seven more under the law.
TAX BILL #2
A second bill cutting taxes by an estimated $431.7 million over three years is still awaiting action in the Legislature, although its future is unclear. The bill, among other things, would increase the standard deduction amount based on the cost-of-living adjustments provided in the internal revenue code and would also expand the income tax exemption for federally taxable Social Security benefits. (Kansans currently pay no state taxes on federally taxable Social Security benefits if they earn less than $75,000 a year). The bill uses a formula that gradually reduces the percentage of Social Security income which would be taxable.
SCHOOL FUNDING/OPEN ENROLLMENT
The Legislature still needs to pass the school funding bill. The $6.4 billion education funding bill includes a provision allowing students to move from one school district to another more freely.
Passage of a bill that establishes a new national suicide hotline and provides the accompanying funding is still uncertain. The bill is locked up in a conference committee, and lawmakers have conditioned $10 million in funding on whether the bill passes. The bill establishes a new hotline number — 988 — that will replace a 10-digit number used to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The new 988 lifeline, which will use the existing infrastructure of the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-8255), will go into effect in July.
There’s no sense of any momentum behind this bill even though the Legislature appeared set to take up the matter at the outset of the session after the House passed a bill last year. A Senate committee held hearings on the bill during the regular session, but lawmakers didn’t work the bill. Republican state Senator Rob Olson, chair of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, said his goal is to meet on the bill but added he didn’t know how far lawmakers would get. Senate President Ty Masterson said there is “probably not” time to pass a bill in the closing days of the session.
Despite claims to the contrary, the Legislature did not pass the bill requiring pharmacists to fill ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine prescriptions for treating COVID-19. Already under investigation by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, Republican state Senator Mark Steffen confused matters when he provided false information to physicians in a letter to 250 Kansas hospitals, clinics and government agencies. In the letter he stated that writing prescriptions for those drugs should not be an issue because lawmakers had passed a bill requiring pharmacists to fill ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine prescriptions for treating COVID-19 when, indeed, the bill has not been passed. The bill also prevents school and day care administrators from inquiring about the faith of children for whom a vaccine exemption is sought. A House-Senate conference committee had not agreed on a compromise before the regular session ended.
The bill slid out of the House with the minimum number of votes possible (63-49) after some lawmakers complained about a provision funneling sports wagering revenues into building a facility for a professional sports team, which could be the Kansas City Chiefs. Senate President Ty Masterson said last week he didn’t know whether there were votes to pass the bill in his chamber. Republican Senator Rob Olson, chair of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, said he believes the votes are there to pass the legislation although he acknowledged there could be a hiccup with the provision for relocating a professional sports team.
On Monday District Judge Bill Klapper ruled, in a 209-page opinion, that the new map (known as Ad Astra 2) violates multiple sections of the Kansas Constitution because of partisan and racial gerrymandering. Klapper, elected to the bench as a Democrat, ordered the Legislature to draw a new map. Klapper ruled, “The court has no difficulty finding, as a factual matter, that Ad Astra 2 is an intentional, effective pro-Republican gerrymander that systemically dilutes the votes of Democratic Kansans. Ad Astra 2 is also unconstitutional on the independent and distinct ground that it dilutes minority votes in violation of the Kansas Constitution’s equal rights and political power clauses.” The attorney general immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“We will not agree on every issue. But let us respect those differences and respect one another. Let us recognize that we do not serve an ideology or a political party we serve the people."