Sen. Jeff Pittman's 2021 Legislative Update #10
Legislative Update #10 March 29, 2021
IN THIS ISSUE:
THIS WEEK AT THE CAPITOL I am honored to serve as your Senator. My office is located in 124E. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com . Daily calendars, committee and district information, and full text and summaries of bills are all available online at www.kslegislature.org. If you want to watch the proceedings of the House or the Senate, legislative proceedings and committee meetings are live-streamed.I was happy to help Kansas Thespians get a Governor's Proclamation this year, proclaiming Mar 24th, 2021 as “Theater in Our Schools Advocacy Day”. In Kansas we have 98 active Thespian or Junior Thespian troupes, and over 2900 active high school or junior high Thespian members. We have consistently placed at least one Kansas officer on the International Thespian board of six. Theater serves so many purposes in providing students with skills and moments that will last a lifetime.
LEGISLATURE This week marked the last week of normal committee work. Committees are a key part of our process as we focus in on particular subjects, review bills in detail and move them to be reviewed by all Senators if we find the bill passes muster (in theory!). We have full floor debate the next three days and break for Easter. This is where chairmanships and ranking minority members start determining the process more than the general body, for better or worse. Ideas that have passed committees but not moved to the floor often get stuck in other bill numbers and the process becomes very messy and difficult to track. As an example of this process, a bill I had discussed a number of weeks ago regarding suspended drivers licenses and fees was pulled from debate (SB 100). Some of the contents of that bill were put into a separate bill, and we passed SB100 on Thursday out of Transportation with just one section intact. This was the part that would not double down on penalties if the main reason a secondary suspension was imposed was due to financial hardship. Likewise sections of bills, like those in Senate Bill 131 regarding funeral processions that is so important to our local VFW and Patriot Guard riders, may be inserted into other bills to get the language into statute. On the floor this week, the Senate took action on 25 bills and 2 appointments. Lesley Isherwood and Jacy Hurst both received unanimous approval in their confirmations to the Kansas Court of Appeals. They are both well-qualified and will serve our state well on the appellate bench. Jacy Hurst is the first woman of color in state history to serve on the Kansas Court of Appeals.
UNEMPLOYMENT I continue to be impressed with the higher rate of resolution over recent weeks after the Governor authorized more workers to deal with unemployment. There is a bill working through Senate Commerce that deals with upgrading the Unemployment system and providing for an oversight committee. I found the original provisions that cut off unemployment to be very bad timing, and I believe the negotiations have, for the time being, removed that provision. We will see what comes out this week. If you are my constituent and still having an issue, keep me in the loop. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org ● Your first and last name, and middle initial ● A callback number ● Your email address ● Your residential address ● The last four digits of your Social Security Number ● A summary of your issue and whether you have already applied and whether someone has advocated on your behalf to this point with KDOL Also, remember that the Governor announced $200 million in statewide rental assistance to support housing stability and prevent evictions and homelessness. All applications for this program are now open. Tenants may qualify for assistance if they earn no more than 80 percent of their area’s median income, are experiencing documented financial hardship as a result of the COVID pandemic, and may be at risk of housing instability or homelessness without assistance. https://kshousingcorp.org/emergency-rental-assistance/
VACCINES On Friday, Governor Kelly announced that starting Monday, March 29, Kansas will enter Phase 5 of the vaccine prioritization framework and make the COVID-19 vaccine available to all Kansans ages 16 years or older. In the early part of the vaccine distribution process, limited vaccine supply from the federal government was the most significant constraining factor to Kansas’s ability to vaccinate individuals. Now, because vaccine supply has increased, the Kelly administration is opening eligibility to all Kansans to get doses into arms quickly and ensure no vaccines go to waste. Kansans can find a provider near them with the vaccine available on the Vaccine Finder tool. If Kansans have questions, they should call their local health department or the KDHE Public Information Hotline at 1-866-534-3463 (1-866-KDHE-INF) or email email@example.com. As of Friday, March 26, the Kansas Vaccine Dashboard shows that 753,458 Kansans are reported as vaccinated — almost 26% of our population.
VETERANS HOME — MORE PROGRESS When I originally entered the bills in 2020 for a new veterans home, I separated the financing from the application process. With Governor having authorized the application for a new home, the next step HB 2021 isn’t a necessary bill, but preauthorizing bonding will increase the likelihood of us getting that home sooner and moving up the federal VA list. I was happy to continue shepherding the pieces through the process, testifying with bipartisanship in the Senate committee. Thank you to all my colleagues in the House- it’s definitely a team!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tz6tEGGdJm8&t=11m11s (I start at roughly minute 11:11)
BILLS PASSING SENATE FLOOR Here are some of the different bills that passed the Senate floor this past week: HB 2126 – Removing Liability for Adult Care Facilities HB 2126 would remove liability from adult care facilities in civil cases relating to COVID-19. I opposed this bill because I believe nursing homes should have a high level of accountability and standard of care for our loved ones. The Disability Rights Center of Kansas, Kansas Advocates for Better Care, Kansas BAR Association, and Kansas Trial Lawyers Association joined me in opposing this bill. I do understand the big nursing homes would be targets for lawsuits, but this seemed over-broad in giving immunity to all homes, assisted living facilities and mental health centers. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2126/ Senate Substitute for HB 2072: This bill creates the Utility Financing and Securitization Act, which allows for the securitization of utility assets to recover energy transition costs for electric public utilities. This Act would also allow electric and natural gas public utilities to pursue securitization to help finance qualified extraordinary expenses, such as fuel costs incurred during extreme weather events. The second part was in response to the steep prices we saw after the extreme winter weather in February of this year. While 82% of Kansans support programs that promote energy efficiency and a transition toward more renewable energy, less progressive Senators rallied against renewable wind energy on Thursday afternoon in a debate that lasted over an hour and a half. I voted against their attempt to hinder energy companies’ ability to diversify their energy sources, and was glad to support the underlying bill. License plates -- again. Sub HB 2166 – Adding Distinct License Plates Every year, we have bills that would add several types of distinct license plates. This year, the plates were many and importantly for our area they do include military branch specific license plates for active duty and retirees. There was also one for Braden’s Hope for Childhood Cancer license plates, proud educator license plates, and Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), the Deltas and then a final one was added without a hearing that is the Don't Tread on Me plate with funds going to the KS Rifle Association. To qualify the applicant must apply and provide proof that they are part of one of the aforementioned organizations. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2166/ HB 2071 – Increasing Criminal Penalties for Stalking of Minors A bill I spoke to on the floor, HB2071, amends the definition of stalking to include engaging in conduct that targets a child (under the age of 14) that would cause fear for that child’s safety. The penalty for stalking in this case would be a level 7 and person felony for a first time offender and a level 4 and person felony for any repeat offenders. While I support the bill, sometimes the Legislature has a knee jerk reaction to cases--this one was prompted by a situation in Johnson County. Given that the level of criteria is that a 'reasonable person would likely fear for the safety of the child' the imposition of a level 4 penalty is very strict given the ambiguity of the offense. However, I did vote for it in the interest of reducing the chances of child predators causing harm. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2071/ SB 2 – Beer and Wine at the State Fair Good news for lovers of beer (or wine) and the State Fair! SB 2 amends certain provisions to allow for the sale of wine and or beer at the State Fair if the Kansas State Fair Board authorizes the vendor and if the vendor holds a permit. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb2/ This is one of several measures related to alcohol that have passed the Senate, showing a little more leniency in this area than in previous legislatures. Environmental Bill: HB 2155 – Soil and Water Pollutant Prevention HB 2155 updates laws and regulations regarding soil and water pollutant cleanup. The bill makes our communities safer and protects the environment by requiring the Secretary of Health and Environment to adopt rules and regulations that they believe are necessary to respond to the release of a pollutant. The bill provides the Secretary the authority to hold the individual responsible for the release accountable and take action to clean the pollutant if necessary. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2155/ On the border bill: SB 158 – Towing Regulations SB 158 prohibits towing a vehicle that is in Kansas to a location outside of the state borders without the consent of the driver/owner of the vehicle. The Kansas Motor Carriers which has towing members provided support for the bill citing the need to protect private property. It specifies when abandoned cars are allowed to be towed and how companies must search for owners. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb158/ College tuition credit card fee bill: HB 2070 – Credit Card Surcharges for Private Colleges HB 2070 allows private post-secondary education institutions like local St Mary's and Benedictine to collect a surcharge on credit card payments. Currently only Kansas public institutions, municipal universities, community colleges, technical colleges, and vocational schools can do so. This seemed like a fair bill, but has been worked on for over 9 years! Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2070/ HB 2254 – Irrevocable Prearranged Funeral Arrangements HB 2254 increases the cap on irrevocable prearranged funeral agreements to 10,00 dollars from the current cap of 7,000 dollars. This cap had not been modified since 2010, which a representative of the Kansas Funeral Directors Association criticized. In addition to raising the cap the bill also amends documentation requirements that crematory operators are required to receive before cremating a human body. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2254/
ELECTION BILLS Voter suppression bills seem to be all the rage across the country, and we have a number that are coming out of the Senate Federal & State Affairs Committee. * SB 11 decreases the amount of time for submitting advance ballots from 20 days before an election to just 15 days. * SB 292 creates a number of logistical hurdles for elderly and disabled voters by limiting the number of ballots a person can take to a drop-off box or the election office for other individuals to five. The bill was amended in committee to also prohibit candidates from picking up and delivering completed advance mail ballots. * SB 307 requires advance mail ballots to be returned to the election office by 7pm on election night to be counted. That has the potential of not counting tens of thousands of mailed in ballots, as an example, that arrived the day after election day. Under current law, ballots postmarked by the election date may be counted if they are received within 3 days after the election. The state organization representing Kansas county clerks and election officials strongly opposed a similar piece of legislation in the House. * HB 2183 would prohibit the Governor, Secretary of State, and judicial branch from altering election regulations or procedures even in extreme circumstances such as a natural disaster or global pandemic with HB 2183. Both Republican and Democratic members of the committee expressed concern that county election officials were not consulted by the Senate committee on the cost, logistical issues, or other burdens many of these measures may place on our counties’ ability to properly run elections.
KANSAS EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT ACT On Wednesday, Governor Kelly signed Senate Bill 40, the Kansas Emergency Management Act bill that was approved by the Senate last week, into law. Among other provisions, Senate Bill 40 modifies the procedure for the declaration and extension of a state disaster emergency under the Kansas Emergency Management Act, and extends the current disaster declaration to May 28, 2021. Several executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic were set to expire on March 31 in conjunction with the expiration of the state of disaster emergency. Senate Bill 40 includes a provision that revokes all current executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Governor retains the authority to re-issue orders under the new process imposed by the bill. On April 1, the Governor will re-issue several executive orders, which will remain in effect until rescinded or until the statewide state of disaster emergency expires, whichever is earlier. Among the executive orders she is re-issuing is No. 20-68, the statewide mask order.
PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP — LANSING CORRECTIONS WORK TRAINING I was happy to testify in Senate Fed & State in support of HB 2401 that helps pave the way for public private partnerships to build workforce training centers in Lansing Corrections grounds. As long as we ensure that this is not a path to private prisons in Kansas, this appears to be a great program benefiting my district. I commend the private partners for stepping up to help develop work-skills and also assisting successful rehabilitation of those who will be re-entering our general population. I rise in support of this type of innovation in Kansas. We can also reduce recidivism by preparing our offenders for release, putting them in a better position for success versus dropping them into the same environment and circumstances where they were when they committed their crimes.