2020 Session - Legislative Update #4
Week 4 of the 2020 session started with a Chiefs’ win in the Super Bowl and ended with a well publicized lock-down in the Kansas House. The normal committee meetings were disrupted due to the parade and the proposed Constitutional Amendment.
First Record Vote of the 2020 Session
While we attend session each day, we don’t always have recorded votes. Sometimes we have multiple votes on one day, sometimes we conduct the day-to-day business of committee fact-finding.
We took the first vote of the 2020 Session on the House Floor of the 2020 Session on Monday (Feb. 3, 2020), representing a relatively mundane bill that characterizes many actions we take cleaning up statues that are mostly noncontroversial.
House Bill 2426 was one such bill that will make technical amendments to provisions in the Code of Civil Procedure, Small Claims Procedure Act, and Code of Civil Procedure for Limited Actions to update and standardize statutory references.
This bill was introduced by Rep. Boog Highberger and passed on Final Action by a vote of 114-0.
As I wrote about last week, the Senate passed a Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR 1613) with ballot language that would, if passed by the voters, amend the Kansas Constitution. The amendment to the Constitution would remove the rights of the person and, instead, grant those rights to the government, including the express ability to make all legislative decisions regarding abortion. As written, the Legislation would prohibit abortion even in the case of rape or incest, and even if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.
As mentioned in prior newsletters, the Attorney General made a determination that the impact could be that the Legislature, with a simple majority and sympathetic governor, could eliminate abortions in the unfortunate circumstances of rape, incest, and mortal threat to the mother. The amendment language is written so broadly that future legislatures could even mandate abortions or altogether eliminate birth control, especially if the Constitutional precedence in Roe v. Wade were overturned.
An amendment of interest on the House floor was one proposed that would have replaced the text of the constitutional amendment with the language in HCR 5004, a bill which would grant personhood to all humans beginning at fertilization, effectively banning all abortion and making miscarriages a crime. This resolution had 22 co-sponsoring representatives originally, but the amendment failed due to ruled not being germane to the original resolution SCR 1613.
After being held in Call of the House for nearly six hours, SCR 1613 failed after receiving only 80 votes, four votes short of the Constitutional two-thirds majority required for amendments.
I voted no, and provided an explanation for that vote. If the language would have provided exceptions and been presented to the voters on the November 2020 ballot, the legislation would have likely passed the House of Representatives.
Veterans & Military Affairs
Last week in Veterans and Military Affairs, we reviewed the Kansas Lottery program, especially the aspects of the lottery that go to fund military and veterans programs.
Approximately $1.2 million went to the Kansas veterans in 2019, bringing the Lottery program cumulative contributions to roughly $18.7 million since the Veteran benefits program was authorized in 2003. These Lottery program funds several veteran and military programs, including the National Guard Education Assistance Act Scholarship, Veteran's Homes, Cemeteries, and service delivery programs.
Other areas of interest discussed were the success of the play-on-phone application where players gets points for players on winning/non-winning tickets for follow-on prizes.
There have been about 100 lottery vending machines deployed across the state. Notably, Walmart has partnered the Kansas Lottery on these machines. Kansas is the second state to have this partnership with Walmart. The money from these vending machines is earmarked to go towards mental health programs. For these, retailers get a five percent cut, one percent cash bonus, plus a one percent bonus for big tickets.
People have asked why lottery funding doesn’t go straight to education. Lottery officials say it was never marketed to go to education, but there may have been confusion with programs say from Missouri. According to the Lottery formula, 85% goes to the Economic Development Initiative Fund (EDIF), some to problem gamblers fund, and other portions go to mental health, vet benefits, and the State General Fund (SGF).
I have proposed legislation that would amend existing statute to require a known, specific amount from the Kansas Lottery be utilized for veteran benefits. Current statute has a variable amount that is contingent upon the sale of certain ticket types. The legislation, House Bill 2037, is supported by both the Lottery Commission and the Veterans Affairs Commission. The legislation has passed out of committee, but House leadership has thus far refused to have a debate on the bill.
Mental Health Action This Week
Mental Health Professionals Visit
I was glad to have the opportunity to visit with Leavenworth native, Chelsea Harrington, and her crew of Topeka-based mental health professionals.
They are having great success with the mental health in our schools pilot program that had expanded state funding last year. We have the same pilot program being implemented by the Guidance Center in our USD 453 district.
Hearing on Mental Health Parity Act
There is a hearing on House Bill 2459 in the House Insurance Committee. HB 2459, which I cosponsored, is the Kristi L. Bennett Mental Health Parity Act. The legislation would ensure that medical practitioners, not insurance companies, determine the proper care and treatment for those presenting with mental illness, such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and / or substance use disorder.
The legislation is named for Kristi Bennett, a woman who was experiencing mental health crisis and was turned away by non-medical professionals. Ms. Bennett subsequently committed suicide. It is our hope that amending state statute to leave treatment decisions to medical professionals will slow the rates of suicide, which grow annually in Kansas.
Suicide Prevention Program Review
Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Center in Downtown KCK
I spent some time last week hearing about the new mental health crisis stabilization center that was opened by KU Health Systems in the former EPA building in Downtown KCK.
The Downtown KCK facility is intended to serve only as a crisis stabilization center - meeting the patients' short-term needs first. One of the issues they face at the new mental health facility is a bottleneck for longer-term treatment due to ongoing accreditation issues at Osawatomie State Hospital.
KU Health Systems deserves congratulations and praise for their use of cutting edge therapy at the facility. There is hope that the KU model in Downtown KCK can serve as a model that to be replicated around the state to address crisis stabilization on a regional basis.
Budget Committee Work
Last week, my Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee heard agency budget requests from the Board of Indigents' Defense Services (BIDS), the Kansas Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training (KS-CPOST), the Kansas Sentencing Commission, and the Emergency Medical Services Board.
Board of Indigents' Defense Services (BIDS)
The Board of Indigents' Defense Services, or BIDS, is responsible for administering Kansas' public defender system, ensuring that every person who is criminally accused has access to counsel pursuant to the Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
The new executive director for BIDS did an agency overview, noting how much more efficient public defenders offices are than contracting outside services known as assigned services. However, BIDS has refused new cases 20 times since July 2019 due to a lack of resources. Due to the low funding and, likewise, low salaries, BIDS faces challenges retaining lawyers and support staff. The lawyers manage 100 open cases at a time, which makes the hours long. This is the equivalent of giving each case 1.6 hours of time per month on sometimes very serious cases. The BIDS also noted the relatively big discrepancy between prosecuting attorneys and public defenders.
After reviewing our system of public defenders for the accused in Kansas, it is clear to me that systemic underfunding of BIDS has created a broken system, which has caused me to take a particular interest in the budget for the Board of Indigents' Defense Services.
We have directed the BIDS executive director to come back in September with a strategic plan that would help get our public defense system in order, with stretch goals and realistic strategies. We have also allocated extra money, pending the Governor’s review, to fund salary enhancements with the hope that it will slow turnover at the agency.
You can listen to the BIDS review here.
Kansas Sentencing Commission
We also reviewed the agency budget of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, which has two objectives: performing analysis that determines the rate of convictions and impact of criminal law changes on prison capacity; and also rehabilitating prisoners, as instructed by judges, in order to stop the cycle of recidivism in incarceration.
Their program is commonly known as SB123. My committee stepped up funding for this last year and the report out from the Board director is that the program is having good success. Their stats show that people who go through their program have a 7.7% lower rate of re-conviction and that is only in the high-risk population. This is encouraging.
Other Agency Reviews
We also approved the proposed Emergency Medical Services budget last week.
We will be reviewing the National Guard Budget that was proposed Thursday on Tuesday at 3:30pm.
Medicaid Expansion Shut Down by Susan Wagle
Senate President Susan Wagle went into the empty chamber of the Senate and called her own session this past weekend and moved all House related healthcare bills from the floor back to committee. Senator Wagle has stated that she plans on shutting down any consideration of bills in the Senate that could potentially be used to expand Medicaid for more than 150,000 Kansans.
Appropriations & Tax
The House Appropriations Committee, through its budget subcommittees, like my Budget Committee on Transportation and Public Safety, have started reviewing the Governor’s proposed budget.
Tax policy modifications continue to be a low-key, but an ever-present priority. Leavenworth County Senator Tom Holland has proposed a tax rule allowing barns and out-buildings to be included in the disaster related tax relief statutes. The legislation, Senate Bill 242, is in response to an EF-4 tornado that hit the southern part of Leavenworth last year.
This is an important bill that I expect will have wide support. It has a hearing Tuesday morning.
Other priorities include targeted food sales tax relief. Kansas has the highest food sales tax in the nation. The Governor has proposed replacing the non-refundable food sales tax credit with a new refundable food sales tax credit. This will return $63 million back to the people of Kansas.
The Governor has also proposed property tax relief by resuming transfers under Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, or the LAVTRF, returning property taxes back to local communities. The LAVTRF has been in state statute since 1964, but unfunded since 2003.
Upcoming Hearings of Interest
Of local interest, the House Committee on K-12 Education Budget, another Appropriations subcommittee in the House, will conduct a hearing on Wednesday for House Bill 2526, which would amend the capital improvement state aid schedule, exempting USD 207 Fort Leavenworth from that formula. The Fort's unique positioning entirely on Federal land and the impact that has on certain state aid formulas requires we exempt USD 207 from this formula.
The House Committee on Federal and State Affairs will be holding a hearing on House Bill 2563, which will raise the minimum of age possessing and purchasing tobacco to 21 years. The legislation will also prohibit vending machine sales for tobacco products. Hearing on Thursday, Feb 13 at 9 a.m. in 346-S.
The House Committee on Rural Revitalization may be conducting a hearing on electrical vehicle recharging stations. This is hearing is probably related to House Bill 2585, which exempts the retail sale of electricity by public utilities for electric vehicle charging stations from the jurisdiction of the state corporation commission. House Bill 2585 will be heard Thursday, Feb. 13 at 9 a.m. in the House Committee on Utilities and Energy.
The KPERS re-amortization bill proposed again by Governor Kelly, House Bill 2503, will have a hearing on Monday in the House Committee on Financial Institutions and Pensions. The legislation, if approved by the Legislature, would amortize the unfunded actuarial liabilities (UAL) of the State and School KPERS Fund over a 25-year period. The legislation would also authorize the transfer of funds from the State General Fund (SGF) for KPERS payment this year, but eliminate certain employer contribution payments.
The House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development is working on House Bill 2506, which would expand expedited licensing program for Servicemembers and their spouses. This legislation would recognize occupational permitting from other states for Servicemembers and their spouses and should help spouses transition with more ease into the local economy of their station. The hearing is on Thursday, Feb. 13 at 1:30 p.m. in Room 112-N.
The House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice is planning a series of hearings this week on legislation addressing the definition of “possession,” requiring legislative presence on the membership of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, addressing drug treatment programs.
The House Education Committee is also busy this week. There is a hearing for House Bill 2573 on Tuesday. The legislation would require students pass an American civics test in order to graduate with a high school diploma. There is also a discussion about mandatory vaccinations for K-12 students on Tuesday. This type of discussion often brings a flurry of activity due to some in our state who are anti-vaccine.
The House Judiciary Committee will be hearing, among other things, House Bill 2306 on Tuesday. HB 2306 would extend the statute of limitations, or time, that victims of child sex abuse may bring a cause of action seeking a civil remedy.
In the House Insurance Committee on Wednesday is a hearing on House Bill 2557, which would establish a $100 maximum out-of-pocket cost-share per month per covered person for prescription insulin drugs for treatment of diabetes. Insulin, the century-old drug, has experienced severe price escalations in recent years, and this legislation would address out-of-control price increases for this life-saving drug.
Legislature Cancelled for Chiefs' Parade
On Wednesday, legislative leaders cancelled the session so that members could attend the Super Bowl Parade in Kansas City.
I took advantage of the time Wednesday with no session and no committee to see our hometown team return home in victory.
As a lifelong Chiefs’ fan, it was great to go down and support the home team with my wife and we ran into our Leavenworth former Mayor, Jermaine Wilson!
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.
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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