Sen. Jeff Pittman's 2021 Legislative Update #11
April 5, 2021 IN THIS ISSUE:
Greetings - 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 hope you had a great Easter weekend. It was certainly beautiful out and I was happy to spend time with my family. Here is a picture of some of the eggs we dyed. Legislators worked all day on the floor Monday through Wednesday of this week in order to meet the deadline for non-exempt bills to be passed out of their second chamber. We are off for a short break before returning next week for conference committee work. All of this is in preparation for the upcoming first adjournment, scheduled for April 9th.
UNEMPLOYMENT This past week, the Senate took action on unemployment. While I had my concerns, Senate substitute for HB 2196 is a mega unemployment bill, which notably creates the Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council. It requires the Kansas Department of Labor to modernize its IT infrastructure and provides over $40 million in appropriations to do so. I voted YES on this bill, which will help our state address long-term issues in our Department of Labor, the consequences of which we’ve felt acutely over the past year. I also supported Senate Minority Leader Sykes’s amendment – which was rejected on a voice vote – to extend unemployment benefits to 26 weeks through at least the end of the year. The bill as written imposes a scaling unemployment timeframe, and would only provide 26 weeks of benefits if the state unemployment rate were 6% or higher. A lower state unemployment rate doesn’t do much for an unemployed person who needs to get food on the table while they search for a job. Even so, the bill provides some much needed modernization and oversight. Hopefully this bill will streamline the unemployment process and bring much needed aid to Kansans. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2196/ We also voted in a new Secretary of Labor. The Senate unanimously confirmed Amber Shultz as the new Secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor. I continue to be impressed with the higher rate of resolution over recent weeks after the Governor authorized more workers to deal with unemployment. 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
RENTAL ASSISTANCE 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 March 29, Kansas was among the first to enter into Phase 5 for COVID vaccine prioritization 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. I encourage everyone that can to get the vaccine as, even if you were to get COVID, it helps mitigate the symptoms and reduce the possibility of death. 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, April 2, the Kansas Vaccine Dashboard shows that 868,292 Kansans are reported as vaccinated — almost 30% 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. In early March, I worked with the Governor in making this a reality. Governor Kelly signed Executive Order No. 21-07 to support Kansas veterans through the establishment of a new state veteran’s home in northeast Kansas. EO #21-07 directs the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs to submit an initial application to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs to have up to 65% of construction costs associated with the new veteran’s home paid for with federal funds. With Governor having authorized the application for a new home, the next step of authorizing the bonding, as found in my original bill and now in HB 2021, isn’t absolutely necessary, 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, helping seal the deal on the Senate floor. Thank you to all my colleagues in the House—it’s definitely a team!
Check out my speech on the Senate floor celebrating passage of the NE Kansas Veterans Home legislation: https://www.facebook.com/Pittman05/posts/4445231682172472
BILLS PASSING SENATE FLOOR As we were on the floor all day each day, there were a lot of bills that passed the Senate floor this past week. Some other notable ones: * For State Employees, I am very sympathetic to the high contribution rate employees have had to insurance. This was increased during the Brownback years, and lowered slightly as a percentage during Kelly's administration. Yet it is still too high in my opinion. HB 2218 updates the membership and responsibilities of the Kansas State Employees Health Care Commission, which sets the insurance premium rates for state employees. In committee, an amendment added two legislators (the chairs of the Senate Ways & Means Committee and House Appropriations Committee) and the Insurance Commissioner – all partisan elected officials – to the commission. I believe these legislative additions can at least help bring visibility to the Commission and be a voice of those who pay these rates. * Tracking disease outbreaks. SB 304 removes the sunset on the COVID-19 Contact Tracing Privacy Act. Contact tracing is the process used by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to identify close contacts of expected cases of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Last summer, the Legislature passed the Contact Tracing Privacy Act to hinder the ability of KDHE to notify close contacts of infected persons. This week, the Legislature voted to remove the expiration of this policy so KDHE will have to continue to obtain the consent of an infected person before they can notify their friends, family, and coworkers that they have been exposed to the virus. It is also important to note that this law applies not only to this current pandemic but also diseases like syphilis and hepatitis. While I am a big advocate for not allowing government to target individuals, this law is shortsighted in that it hinders our state’s ability to stop the spread of highly contagious diseases. I voted NO-- there must be a better way of moving forward that protects privacy and people at the same time. * I support healthcare options for citizens, especially through things like expanding coverage of Medicaid to take advantage of Federal investment in our state. Unfortunately, because we don't have that some turn to short term policies (aka as 'junk insurance' to some). SB 199 would amend the law governing short-term limited duration (STLD) policies, which currently allows for policies extending to 6 or 12 months. This bill would allow these policies to last as long as 3 years. I voted no on this bill, mainly because I do not support plans like these are superficially attractive quick fixes that lead to long-term negative consequences. These plans hurt our most vulnerable in the risk pool by increasing premiums for comprehensive coverage, and they can come back to haunt individuals who elect to use them by capping benefits on coverage for events like heart attacks and excluding coverage for essential health benefits like maternity care. * HB 2039 would require students to pass an American civics test in order to graduate with a high school diploma. The questions would be taken from the naturalization test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The purported goal of this bill is to increase civic engagement among young Kansans. I was disappointed that the body chose not to consider Senator Sykes’s amendment to encourage young Kansans to participate in government by automatically pre-registering to vote those students who pass the civics test. Ultimately, I voted against this bill because I believe the Legislature should stay in its lane; our elected State Board of Education has the authority to set curriculum, and the Legislature shouldn't try to make politically motivated one-off curriculum changes without considering the entire range and timing of curriculums. Support for the bill comes from private citizens, while many school districts and school related associations believe that a civics exam would do little to improve civics education. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2039/ * Addressing elderly abuse, HB 2121, would increase the punishment level for mistreatment of a dependent adult or elder. The bill would raise the felony level from a 5 to a level 2 if the crime includes physical injury, unreasonable confinement, or unreasonable punishment. If the crime includes deprivation of treatment, goods, or services then the felony level would be raised from 8 to 5. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2121/ * Also focused on Kansas Seniors, HB 2114 would establish the Kansas Senior Care Task Force which would be required to independently research and study a variety of issues affecting the elder population of Kansas. The task force will then forward a report that recommends improvements for the well being of Kansas seniors including changes to laws, rules, regulations, policies, and programs. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2114/ * Info for emergency response, HB 2245 would authorize the Division of Vehicles and Department of Revenue to collect opt-in emergency contact information from all holders of Kansas Drivers License (instruction permits included). These agencies will have the authority to disclose contact information at the request of law enforcement agencies. The bill supports first responders who say that they would benefit from quick contact with family members after an emergency or tragedy. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2245/ * Child Advocate Act, would establish the Office of the Child Advocate (within the Office of the Attorney General) and create the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System. These two will resolve concerns related to complaints about the Department for Children and Families (DCF) and Department of Corrections. The Senate and the House each had a bill that would establish this office with differences in oversight. In the House bill, the Child Advocate would have been a Senate-confirmed appointment by the Governor and the Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court who would report directly to the Legislature. Instead of a plan with more oversight and accountability, the Senate opted to give this appointment power to Attorney General Derek Schmidt who has shown a willingness to politicize his office and will now have full access to confidential information regarding foster care. It now feels more punitive than solution oriented. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2153/ CONCUR ON TAX CHANGE I voted to concur on SB 50 after it came back to from the House. They took out some retroactive benefits for businesses I did not like, but with a cost of less than $100 Million to the budget, it was better than the nearly half a Billion proposed by the majority earlier in the session and the provisions feel very fair. SB 50 requires the collection and remittance of certain taxes by marketplace facilitators, putting our local retailers on a somewhat equal footing as internet retailers. It also makes victims of identity theft not liable for taxes on fraudulent unemployment benefits, it allows for State specific itemization (even when electing to use the standardized deduction federally), it extends the corporation tax return filing by one month, provides for some corporate deductions specified in federal tax code in 2017 that Kansas had not opted into and allows for net operating losses to have longer carry forwards.ting losses to be carried forward for ten years. DID NOT CONCUR ON ADULT CARE LIABILITY IMMUNITY HB 2126 passed out but I did not agree with it. The bill replaces an affirmative defense available in certain circumstances for an adult care facility for a COVID-19 claim with immunity from liability for a covered facility. Liability is hard enough to prove for those who had loved ones who died earlier in the pandemic, but now it is near impossible. These homes do have a challenge and I do not want to see them disappear. But I have heard too many stories, to give blanket immunity to all these providers who care for those most affected by COVID 19.
LOCAL SPOTLIGHT WITH INTERNATIONAL OFFICERS This week, I had the opportunity to engage with 45 officers from 43 different countries who now know more about the State of Kansas and the Kansas National Guard. This was in line with our National Defense Strategy's "Strengthen Alliances and Attract New Partners" line of effort. The Kansas National Guard has partnered with Ft. Leavenworth's International Military Student Division helps support strengthening relationships, building partner capability, and enabling interoperability and with foreign partner land forces. Fort Leavenworth is unique in that 100+ officers representing 90+ countries spend a year here to learn side by side with US military counterparts. It gives our area a unique opportunity to learn about other cultures and them an idea of midwestern hospitality. While at the Capitol, I was able to give perspective to state and national level political topics to those who often only know our form of government from the media.
VOTER SUPPRESSION BILLS Speaking of forms of government, I'm proud we live in a democracy and that was part of what I spoke about with the International Officers. However, voter suppression bills seem to be all the rage across the country, including in Kansas. The Senate passed two bills on Wednesday that will make it harder for Kansans to vote: HB 2332 and Senate substitute for HB 2183. No election officials in Kansas asked for any of the provisions included in these bills. In fact, former election officials have come out against these efforts. ○ HB 2332 blocks the ability of the Secretary of State, the executive, or the judicial branch from altering any election regulations even in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency. Not only is this a potentially unconstitutional encroachment on our executive and judiciary’s powers, but it also renders our state potentially incapable of carrying out our elections and ensuring the right to vote for Kansans. It also contains many provisions regarding the logistics of mailing applications for advance ballots that are unclear, vague, and have not been vetted thoroughly. At one point in the committee, the chair claimed some of these amendments were being passed because of a problem that “we heard it maybe happened somewhere. We don’t know if it happened in Kansas.” Restrictive measures like these based on hearsay are solutions in search of a problem. ○ S Sub for HB 2183 is a prime example of voter suppression by making it harder to vote by mail. Especially in extenuating circumstances like a pandemic, advance mail ballots are even more crucial to ensuring Kansans can vote while protecting their own health and safety. Criminalizing with a felony penalty the act of helping your elderly and disabiled neighbors return their mail ballots because they are unable to do so is immoral and an attempt to disenfranchise many Kansans. Kansas election officials have stated that our state elections in 2020 were a “shining example of how to do it right” and that our “foundation was solidly in place.” My own opinion is that these bills are a huge reaction to claims across the country of voter fraud, and the majority leadership is jumping on the bandwagon. Kris Kobach went after voter fraud for years, costing the state millions and yet found only a handful of examples over the last decade, notably all Republicans who mainly were confused about voting in two states. We do have real election issues--the amount of dark money in Kansas has increased dramatically over the past 15 years, false narratives, conflict of interest cases, a resolution process controlled by the majority process in election disputes, leaning on prosecuting attorneys in political situations of criminal activity... but we aren't solving any of these issues with these election bills...These bills serve no purpose other than making it harder for working Kansans to vote.
KANSAS EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT ACT With all Executive Orders issued by the Governor regarding COVID set to expire, the Governor issued new orders to continue to try to manage Kansas out of the pandemic. We are tracking strong in terms of numbers, the economy is looking good, vaccines are being distributed, but there is still fear of a fourth wave as is being sent in Europe, especially around COVID variants. As per the KEMA law, on Thursday, the Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC) – the Senate President, Senate Vice President, Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader, Speaker of the House, House Majority Leader, and House Minority Leader – met to review the executive orders issued by Governor Kelly this week as she extended the state of emergency declaration through May. These executive orders were for the most part non-controversial, ranging from requiring COVID-19 testing in certain adult care homes to temporarily authorizing for additional vaccinators. That said, the LCC voted 5-2 to revoke executive order 21-14, which establishes a face coverings protocol and exempts local jurisdictions with their own mask orders in place. This was expected as COVID protocols have been unnecessarily politicized, such as ending our week last week with a recorded vote on a resolution asking the Legislative Coordinating Council to revoke any new executive order by the Governor...we don't need this heavy politicization any more.
DEMOCRATS CARRYING BILLS FORWARD There has been talk about whether members of the minority party can 'carry bills'. This is largely a ceremonial thing where the carrier talks about the bill when the whole chamber is considering a bill. I have done this in my time in the House, and this week the Assistant Minority Leader and my seat-mate, Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D - Wichita), was asked to carry Substitute for Senate Bill 100. It is a bill makes it so that those driving with a suspended or revoked license cannot have their licenses suspended or revoked for an additional 90 days if the person’s license was suspended for failure to comply with a traffic citation. So while not common, there is a tinge of bipartisanship on some dimensions.
IMPORTANT STATE PHONE NUMBERS As I stated before, it is a special honor to serve as your State Senator I both value and need your input on the various issues facing state government. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions. My office address is Room 124-E 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. You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org My Legislative Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/Pittman05 My Twitter Account: www.twitter.com/votepittman My Website: www.votepittman.com
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