Sen. Jeff Pittman's 2021 Legislative Update #5
Legislative Update #5 Week 6 February 22, 2021
IN THIS ISSUE:
Greetings - THIS (COLD!) 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. This week was cold! While weathering the effects of the extreme winter cold, we had two days of slowed work. We picked back up committee work on Tuesday and began working legislation on the floor Wednesday.
View outside my office at -9° F:
COVID VACCINATION EFFORT As of today, the Kansas Vaccine Dashboard shows that 324,635 Kansans are reported as vaccinated with the first dose, 456,000 total doses if including the second dose. You can find the COVID-19 vaccine dashboard https://www.kansasvaccine.gov/158/Data . It is updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday by 12:30pm. Governor Kelly’s administration rolled out the Find My Vaccine Tool ( https://www.kansasvaccine.gov/160/Find-My-Vaccine ). The mapping tool is designed to help Kansans locate sites that are administering vaccines in their communities. Kansans in vaccine phase 1 and 2 are recommended to use this tool as a resource for finding providers who are or will be offering the vaccine.
Additional vaccines coming available: Governor Kelly released her back-to-school plan this week to get Kansas students back to in-person learning. This plan involves earmarking and distributing additional Phase 2 doses for K-12 teachers and staff. These educators are already in Phase 2 -- alongside persons aged 65 and older, people living in congregate settings, and other high-contact critical workers -- but this plan provides shots on top of what counties were already being allocated in order to get kids back in the classroom. This means more vaccines will be available in Senate District 5 which I appreciate. In addition to the emphasis on vaccinating K-12 teachers and staff, Kansas will also be able to provide free testing supplies to schools. The specific tests provided will be rapid tests, producing results in about 15 minutes. I commend Governor Kelly and Secretary Norman for providing this to Kansas teachers, alongside those vaccines already being distributed. We must continue to ramp up vaccination distribution. In addition to vaccines coming directly to states, the Biden administration’s new Federal Retail Pharmacy Program has begun implementation. The program is a collaboration between the federal government, states, and national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks. Under the program, vaccines will be distributed directly to pharmacies across the state. Those doses will be designated specifically to Kansans aged 65 and older. As the program is ramping up, Kansas will receive about 9,000 to 10,000 doses every week from the program -- in addition to our regular doses -- but we expect that number to increase significantly in the weeks and months ahead. Callbacks on scheduled appointments: I have had a number of elderly constituents who have put themselves on the vaccination list with the Health department that hadn't been emailed about their vaccination time. It turns out they had missed those appointments because the scheduling email had gone to their SPAM folder in their email system. Get in contact with me if you appear to be having issues and you are clearly in the current phase.
UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE Let me say first, I am as frustrated with the current situation of access to Unemployment Assistance as my constituents. Even though since March 15, 2020, KDOL has paid out over 3.9 million weekly claims totaling over $2.6 billion between regular unemployment and the federal pandemic programs, the recent security protocols put in place to prevent massive fraud attempts that were hitting our local businesses have now prevented many from getting through to the system. The Kansas Department of Labor has released a Frequently Asked Questions document, which is being updated weekly, and it does address many concerns I’ve heard from constituents, including PUA, unemployment fraud, and the Continued Assistance Act. It is at: https://www.dol.ks.gov/docs/default-source/home-page-news/2021/kdol-frequently-asked-questions.pdf
UTILITIES ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE Kansas experienced some of the lowest temperatures and wind chills in state history this week, with lows getting down to -17° in our area. The extreme cold created a two-fold energy issue: consumers were using more electric and gas to heat their homes and combat the cold, and suppliers suffered strain from natural gas, coal, and other energy production delays due to freezing and icing. We had some state political figures suggesting that renewable energy sources were to blame for this. However it's important to know that Kansas, wind energy exceeded performance expectations during this crisis. While I am glad the extreme cold has passed, the effects may still be felt down the line in the form of increased utility costs, as natural gas costs increased significantly during the cold snap. If your household makes less than 130% of the poverty level, you may be eligible for energy assistance through the Department of Children and Families. Applications for assistance must be received by March 31, 2021. Learn more and see if you qualify http://www.dcf.ks.gov/services/ees/Pages/EnergyAssistance.aspx.
UPCOMING RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM On Tuesday, Governor Kelly and the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation announced $200 million in statewide rental assistance to support housing stability and prevent evictions and homelessness. 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. Kansans may apply through the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance (KERA) program administered by KHRC. The online KERA application will open on Monday, March 15, 2021 --> https://kshousingcorp.org/emergency-rental-assistance/
SPEEDY TRIAL RESOLUTION There is an active set of bills being reviewed that would get rid of the speedy trial provisions Kansas put in place decades ago. Speedy trial is a Constitutional right, but Kansas put some definitions as to what that means in our state with particular length of days etc. Due to COVID and court closures, prosecutors are concerned they will not meet those statutory requirements, and in the most drastic circumstances, guilty murderers could go free. On the flip side, defense attorneys are arguing many non-violent offenders' trials are being drawn out unnecessarily and some in holding cells should get some relief, especially if they haven't been proven guilty. There was a compromise this week that the more restrictive Kansas specific speedy trial statutes would be postponed for 3 years to allow the courts to get through the backlog building due to the pandemic. We'll see if that actually passes.
SPORTS WAGERING It sounds as though the Governor is backing off requirements that would force sports wagering to be allowed on internet lottery games, meaning that one step of resistance may have gone away. Tax rates are the biggest thing holding this bill back from becoming law at this point.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA Currently there is a big push in the House to come up with some type of compromise bill that could pass out of House Fed & State around medical marijuana. I co-sponsored a Senate Bill with Rep John Doll (R) which mirrors the Oklahoma law; the current bill in the House Fed & State mirrors Ohio's attempts. I'm concerned because Ohio has had so many problems with their law. Kansas is currently 1 of only 3 states that have not taken any action on Medical marijuana.
FIRST TIME HOME BUYER CREDIT The Kansas House approved a bill that would provide $3k tax credit for first time home buyers to contribute to a dedicated savings account for that initial home purchase. It caps out at $24k total savings for individuals and $48k for couples.
Senate Bill 66 caused a long debate. It extends a program for high risk early stage angel investors tax credit program. I voted for this as I see this as an important program to encourage investment in new startups in business. I see this as an investment in our economic future, so was inclined to agree with the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Senator Rob Olson (R), who advocated for this bill on the Senate floor. This bill is good policy, promotes entrepreneurship, and incentivizes long-term economic growth in our state. I did vote against SB 52 as it was a Sedgwick county specific bill that allows that specific county to have a lot more power to declare nuisance properties. I'm not clear on why the state needed to intervene on that front, nor whether it was good policy to allow specific counties certain rights of power on unincorporated areas vs others. I voted yes on SB 60 which allows Kansas prosecutors to pursue fraud cases perpetrated by those outside the state of Kansas if the victims were in Kansas. I have reservations as to unintended consequences of this in other crime situations however, so will continue to watch this.
VETERANS HOME HEARING We had a very successful hearing on SB 109 that deals with getting the administration to apply for cost-share funding from the Federal VA for a new NE Kansas VA home. With over 30 proponents and passionate in person testimony from the KS Veterans commission, Leavenworth Post 56 commander Ken Romine, the Eastern VA, the original co-sponsors of the bill last year (myself and Rep. Croft (R) from JoCo among others), it was noted in the Senate Fed & State committee that this was the first time they had seen a bill in their committee with no opponents. There was a hearing on the House committee sponsored version of the bill that I also testified on in the House. It passed out with no issue and may be heard on the House floor soon. This concept has built up significant momentum this year and I have hopes that either the House or Senate will pass a version and will quickly go through the other chamber, making all the work in research and pushing for this last session well worth it.
Ken Romine testifies on SB 109
Sen. Jeff Pittman testifies on SB 109
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS ANNOUNCEMENTS On Thursday, Governor Laura Kelly and Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz announced the funding of 18 projects totaling $13.5 million in investment in 2022. The Transportation Alternatives Program funds projects focused almost entirely on planning for and building infrastructure for safe, accessible and connected pedestrian and cycling networks. Funds for this program come from the Federal Highway Administration and are currently the primary source of KDOT funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects statewide, including Safe Routes to School. The program also funds surface transportation projects of a historical nature and scenic and environmental projects. Here is the full list of projects slated to receive an award:
COMMITTEE UPDATES Committee work on bills introduced in the Senate will wind down after next week, at which point the Senate will continue working on bills that came over from the House. There are a series of hearings I've consolidated for next week that may be of interest:
FUNERAL PROCESSION BILL HEARING IN SENATE: I'm honored to get a hearing on a bill I re-introduced this week in Senate Transportation, 8:30am 546-S, Wednesday Feb 24 . This is SB 131 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb131/ Regulating funeral processions and permitting funeral escorts). I introduced this last session after realizing that funeral processions are not even recognized as legal in Kansas statute. This bill will help our local VFW riders, Patriot Guard members and others who commonly escort funerals to help the procession proceed without incident when police officers are not available to do so. (To provide written testimony on this bill, please send a pdf named "Proponent SB131 Funeral Bill - <Your last name) Feb 2021" and in the pdf, include your name, city, position or organization, and then start it with a greeting that says "Chairman Pederson and the Senate Transportation committee -- " next line start it by saying, "I write as a proponent of SB 131 and I urge you to pass it out of this committee. " Then explain your points, hopefully keeping it to one page. Send this pdf to: firstname.lastname@example.org She is the committee assistant. Email it to her by 8:30am Tuesday morning and tell her in the email whether you need a zoom link to offer spoken testimony as well, if you are going to appear in person or if it is only written testimony. Feel free to cc: me at email@example.com)
CORRECTION WORKER RETIREMENT OPTION: The hearing scheduled last week for Corrections Officers to be added to KP&F was delayed due to weather last week. It will now be heard this week in Senate Financial Instiutions, 9:30 546-S, Tuesday Feb 23. (SB 135 http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb135/ - Hearing was postponed for adding Corrections workers to KP&F)
Senate Commerce (10:30 in room 546-S) will be busy this week. SB 137 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb137/) on Tuesday deals with military spouses and service members expedited licenses. I found working with some of our school district superintendents that this is an important issue in terms of leveraging the skills of military spouses who are licensed and could provide flex workforce as they pass through our great state.
SB 176 reviews home inspectors and places additional licensure and registrations. SB 213 is in reaction to vaccine status--it would prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against employees due to their vaccination status--COVID and importantly other vaccinations.
The hearing on term limits for county commissioners was delayed to this week. This is SB 153 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb153/) Term limits on County Commissioners was postponed and will now be held on Tuesday Feb 23 at 9:30 am in Room 142-S
Related to elected positions, in Senate Fed & State (10:30 in room 144-S) Tuesday will focus on voting bills such as SB 209 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb209/) which focuses on restricting third parties from soliciting advanced voting ballot. Thursday will focus on alcohol bills such as SB 253 focused dealing with farm wineries, SB 254 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb254/) focused on clubs ability to sell cereal malt beverages.
County property valuation is always a topic of interest for some. In Senate Assessment and Taxation, 9:30am 548-S, Wednesday Feb 24, there will be a hearing on SB 98 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb98/) - Placing burden of proof on county appraiser in certain valuations Related to this, in Senate Judiciary (10:30am in room 346-S), they will be looking at SB 206 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb206/) which deals with fairness in property condemnation, requiring certain standard notification.
Still waiting to see if SB 75 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb75/) will get a hearing -- otherwise known as Sheldon’s Law -- was introduced earlier this year by Senator Tom Holland (D - Baldwin City). It requires clergy to report certain abuse and neglect of children. It is currently awaiting a hearing in the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
In Senate Education (1:30am in room 144-S), a controversial bill, SB 208 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb208/) is being heard which deals with only females at birth being able to compete in female sports. It requires student athletes to participate in school athletics based upon their biological gender at birth. The Kansas State High School Activities Association currently has a policy in place that gives local school districts authority to make such decisions and allows for transgender students to participate in the gender category with which they identify. Wednesday will be a hearing on SB 31 dealing with excluding Fort Leavenworth and virtual school students from capital improvement state aid determination. The Ft Leavenworth superintendent spoke in favor of this last session. Also, SB 235 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb235/) has a hearing on Thursday, February 25th at 1:30pm in the Senate Committee on Education. This bill would require school districts to provide a full-time, in-person attendance option for all students beginning on March 26, 2021.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH As February ends so does Black History Month, a time devoted to celebrating and recognizing the central role of Black Americans in U.S. history. Here are a few Black Americans in Kansas history: ● Baseball Hall of Famer Charles Wilber "Bullet" Rogan was a Sumner High School graduate who went on to serve in the U.S. Army before being recruited to play for the Kansas City Monarchs. On the team, he was a pitcher and outfielder who helped lead the team to three straight pennants and a Negro League World Series title in 1924. ● Lutie Lyle was the first Black woman admitted to the Kansas bar, and only the third Black woman to be licensed to practice law in the US. She helped form the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union, and lectured for women’s groups and local colleges on law related to domestic issues.
Congratulations to Leavenworth County Historical Society who was featured in a news segment with KCUR 89.3. They visited the museum to learn about the Mary Everhard photograph collection. You can stop by the Carroll Mansion to learn more about the collection and celebrate Black History Month with their newest exhibit "African American Women and The Vote!" You can see the article here: https://www.kcur.org/arts-life/2021-02-20/post-civil-war-photo-negatives-document-african-americans-building-new-lives-in-leavenworth
LOCAL SPOTLIGHT It was a pleasure judging a Congressional Forensics and Debate tournament this weekend where Lansing and Piper students competed with others in the Kansas City area. It was my first time in this format online. The students discussed the pros and cons of Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices as well as other issues being debated in Congress. Format was 3 minute for, questions, 3 minutes against -- some of the students were more structured, logical and had more emotional appeals than some legislators...maybe this type of tournament should be a prerequisite for office...
IMPORTANT STATE PHONE NUMBERS Here is a list of numbers I often receive requests for during the Legislative Session. I hope you will find this information helpful.
Attorney General (888) 428-8436 Child Abuse Hotline (800) 922-5330 Consumer Protection (800) 432-2310 Crime Tip Hotline (800) 572-7463 Crime Victim Referral (800) 828-9745 Department on Aging (800) 432-3535 Driver’s License Bureau (785) 296-3963 Fraud Hotline (800) 432-3919 KPERS (888) 275-5737 Governor’s Office (877) 579-6757 Highway Conditions (800) 585-7623 Housing Hotline (800) 752-4422 KanCare Consumer Assistance (866) 305-5147 Kansas Jobs (785) 235-5627 Kansas Lottery (785) 296-5700 Kansas State Library (800) 432-3924 Legislative Hotline (800) 432-3924 School Safety Hotline (877) 626-8203 Social Security (800) 772-1213 DCF (785) 296-1491 Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-8255 Tax Refund Status Info (800) 894-0318 Taxpayer Assistance (785) 368-8222 Unclaimed Property (800) 432-0386 Vital Statistics (Birth Certificates) (785) 296-1400 Victims of Human Trafficking (888) 373-7888