2020 Session - Legislative Update #2
Week 2 of the 2020 session, started with much talk of how the Chiefs defeated the Titans and now go on to play the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. When there's a chance for every legislator in the Capitol to agree on something, we should celebrate.
With the holiday on Monday commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it was a short week at the Capitol, but a week with a lot of information and emotional ups and downs.
Watch and Listen Online
Committee hearings and legislative proceedings are now live streamed from the Kansas Legislature’s website. Archived recordings are available as well. Visit www.kslegislature.org and click on “Audio/Video” in the upper right-hand corner, next to the search box on the home page, to reveal a drop-down menu.
To view a full schedule of committees, choose “Statehouse Live & Archive” from the drop-down menu, and to listen to legislative proceedings, select either the House or Senate audio stream.
My 2020 Legislative Survey will remain open for one more week. If you haven't yet had a chance, please take a moment to provide your input for the survey. Your voice matters to me.
Deadline Approaching for Bill Introductions
Monday, February 3, is the last day to request bill drafting from the Revisor's Office, so if you have an idea for improving Kansas government, let me know soon.
There are several important deadlines throughout the Kansas legislative session. Because we are only supposed to be in session for 90 days, we have to be efficient in how we proceed. The full 2020 Legislative Calendar is available here.
Special Invite to House Taxation Committee
On Tuesday, I was asked to replace a colleague on the House Taxation Committee due to consideration of an idea I introduced two years ago. The legislation would simplify the tax framework for Kansans, would improve transparency for taxpayers, and reduce tax preparation fees for consumers.
While the idea is intriguing for most legislators, there seems to be consensus or interest in revamping the tax code at this moment given some of the major tax changes that have been undertaken in recent years.
In Transportation and Public Safety Budget (House Appropriations Sub-Committee), we reviewed the Department of Corrections budget and operations, taken over by Secretary Jeff Zmuda last year.
Sec. Zmuda discussed some of the recommendations from the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission and also went over the demographics of the current prison population.
As of now, total Corrections population is 10,044. When asked about ethnic breakouts, African American inmates make up 28% of total population, despite being only 6.1% of the population, according to the Census Bureau.
There were a few key points in our discussion regarding the new correctional facility in Lansing.
When reviewing the timeline of the new facility in Lansing Correctional Facility, because of the installment a new radio communications system, the entire project will be completed in March, rather than February, while the minimum security site, housing 512 inmates, will be opened in December 2020.
The staffing plan approved last session was confirmed to fulfill all needs of the new facility. The group of inmates sent temporarily to Arizona last year are expected to be returned to the Lansing facility soon after the opening.
Pending budget approval, a renovation of a unit at the closed Lansing East unit will add 200 beds for substance abuse treatment for male inmates. Once approved, it would take roughly 24 months of construction. By creating these facilities, inmate violence is expected to decrease and improvements are expected in reducing recidivism.
Monday, January 27, is criminal justice reform advocacy day at the Capitol.
On Thursday, my committee heard an overview from the Sentencing Commission. This commission puts together sentencing projections and recommendations. They described the severity grid as well as the projected numbers of convictions. They have deep analytics that allow them to project out the impact of changes to our laws.
Last year, we added $1 million to the drug treatment programs that allow for alternate sentencing and mandatory treatment options for drug related crimes. Drug related crimes represent a majority of crimes being sentenced in Kansas at 36%, trailed by theft at 9.9%, burglary at 8.5%, Aggravated Battery at 6.1% and DUI at 4.3%. When reviewing ethnicity and sentencing, 2018 had 77.2% as White, 20% as African American and 2.8% as other. Males represented 77.7% of sentenced offenders, females as 22.3%.
Medicaid Expansion Hearings
As mentioned in my Week 1 Newsletter, Gov. Laura Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning announced a proposal to expand healthcare to more than 150,000 Kansans and lower health insurance costs in the marketplace. Medicaid Expansion hearings started Thursday. There are five days of hearings, which is an extremely long hearing in the Kansas Legislature. The hearings will continue this week.
To read the full text of the Medicaid Expansion legislation (Senate Bill 252), click here.
When voters see something as serious as a change to the Constitution on the ballot, they assume the Legislature has done a thorough job vetting the amendment, but that has not been the case with the Constitutional Amendments relating to the regulation of abortion. Both bills have been fast-tracked, and amendments have been refused. Advocates for both sides of this issue were at the Capitol last week.
These Constitutional amendments (HCR 5019) and Senate (SCR 1613) seek to give the Legislature express ability to make all legislative decisions regarding abortion and, as written, specifically states the Kansas Legislature could prohibit abortion even in the case of rape, incest or if it threatens the life of the mother.
The Attorney General made a determination that the impact could be that the legislature, with a simple majority and sympathetic governor, could eliminate all abortions even in the case of rape or incest, could mandate abortions, and could even potentially eliminate birth control, especially if Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey were overturned by the United States Supreme Court.
All attempts to amend the ballot language have failed in committees. The Amendment could be debated any day, but there isn't anything currently scheduled.
Even if the Abortion Amendment weren’t put on the ballot, abortion can still be regulated.
Both the U.S. and Kansas Constitution protect a number of fundamental rights, such as free speech, the right to bear arms, and peaceful assembly. But, likewise, those rights aren’t necessarily absolute in law. State legislatures are free to set guidelines and protections on those freedoms. Libel laws set limits on free speech, certain delivery regulations put limits on firearms, local communities can, and do, require permits for groups wanting to assemble. The ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court is no different. Most of the current statutes would stay in place, as they are about information and procedures of delivery.
Kansas government entities would still be prohibited from funding abortive procedures. Under the federal Hyde Amendment, federal funds are not allowed to be used for abortions with the exception of rape, incest or life endangerment of the mother.
In Kansas there is a statute (K.S.A. 65-6733) that prevents the use of state funds to provide abortions except as required by federal law. This remains in effect and would not change under the ruling. The Governor nor administration has authority to change this now or on any expansion of services.
I have heard from constituents on both sides regarding this matter, and the dialogue has been mostly civil. Most of the constituent concerns who are troubled that the Constitutional Amendment would not make exceptions in the instance of rape, incest or health of the mother. Other concerns are also that the ballot language would appear on the August 2020 Primary Election ballot, when only around 20% of Kansans traditionally cast a ballot, as opposed to the August 2020 General Election ballot, when as many as 70% of Kansans traditionally cast a ballot.
Veterans and Military Affairs
Native Americans who were deployed in the U.S. Armed Services had their pay illegally taxed by the State of Kansas for a number of decades, and, last year, we passed the Native American Veterans' Restitution Act. In Veterans and Military Affairs, we were provided an update on the progress of the Native American Veterans' Restitution Act.
Native American Veterans who had state taxes improperly withheld have a limited window of time to apply for the refund, so the four major tribes are facilitating the information to these affected individuals and families. The Committee was disappointed to learn that only five Veterans have taken advantage of this program thus far.
The Committee also voted to note the confusion of meeting times on the previous week's first meeting of the session since we had some committee members and concerned stakeholders unsure of the meeting times, as well as to thank the Veteran Service Organizations for hosting a reception the previous week.
Bill in Hearings
After introduction of legislation, it is assigned to Committees to be heard and, if there is support, worked. Committees are busy looking at bills still left over from last year and new bills that require hearings and finalization. Some bills still won’t be worked depending on the Chairman.
Newsletters will occasionally provide some bills to watch.
Sheldon's Law (Senate Bill 218) was originally introduced as Senate Bill 37 by Sen. Tom Holland. It requires clergy to report certain abuse and neglect of children. The Senate passed it in 2019 on a vote of 39-0. It’s now in the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs awaiting a hearing.
In House Transportation Committee, we fast tracked a bridge naming bill (HB 2221). The legislation would name the South Summit Bridge on US Highway 77 in Cowley County the "Sgt. Kevin Gilbertson Memorial Bridge." Sgt. Gilberton, US Army 1st Infantry Division, was a 23 year old killed in action in Iraq. His parents and good friends provided powerful testimony on the impact this young man had and his service to our country.
There is a bill in the House Agriculture Committee being heard on Monday regarding products that imitate meat, but don’t contain meat. The Kansas Livestock Association is pushing for very clear font-specific labeling that would not allow there to be any confusion. Opponents state the restrictions are over the top and present a burden of free speech for the protection of one industry.
Wednesday will have hearings on sports betting, transparency measures to let citizens better understand health care costs and agency overview hearings to the budget subcommittees.
Kansas Day is also Wednesday with a pro-forma day on Friday.
Local Government Day
On Local Government Day, I had the opportunity to meet with some of our local government officials, including Lansing City Administrator Tim Vandall and Public Information Officer Ken Miller to discuss a diverse number of issues impacting growth in our region.
The Governor has a line item in her budget for consideration that hasn’t been there for years. The Governor wants to begin returning ad valorem (property) taxes collected by the state to local city and county government under the Local Ad Valorem Tax Rebate (LAVTR) program. The LAVTR program is authorized by statute, but hasn't been funded since 2003. Funding this program would return tax dollars to cities and counties and would allow more local control of how these moneys are spent.
Martin Luther King Day Recognition
Locally a number of groups held the Leavenworth area MLK celebration at Sunflower Missionary Baptist Church, Paster CW Lewis. NAACP took the lead while the former Mayor, Jermaine Wilson, worked as the Master of Ceremonies. Stephen Barbee came in to speak to the power of a diverse history, and the need to move forward.
My Honor to Represent You
It is a special honor to serve our community in the Kansas Legislature. I both value and need your input on the various issues facing state government. Please be sure to take the 2020 Legislative Survey, or feel free to contact me with your comments and questions.
My office address is Room 561-W 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at (785) 296-7522 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Jeff Pittman
Kansas House of Representatives
House District 41 (Leavenworth)
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