Sen. Jeff Pittman's 2021 Legislative Update #6
Legislative Update #6 March 1, 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.
Great to go watch our daughter cheer at the Lansing High School basketball game last week. While the games are not exactly normal yet, it was still good to see the kids being able to compete.
HIRE FUND UPDATE On Tuesday, Governor Kelly announced that funding provided to Kansas’ hospitality industry through the Hospitality Industry Relief Emergency (HIRE) Fund has been converted from bridge loans to grants. The HIRE Fund was established in March of 2020 to provide immediate relief to Kansas hospitality businesses faced with revenue losses due to COVID-19. In total, $5 million was delivered to 344 businesses in communities statewide. Originally established as a working capital loan program through NetWork Kansas, these funds will no longer need to be paid back. Businesses that have made repayments will be reimbursed, and can expect the process of issuing repayment and other paperwork to be completed in the next 30 days.
UNEMPLOYMENT ISSUES CONTINUE I continue to hear the frustration constituents have trying to navigate the overwhelmed unemployment insurance system. New workers who have recently become unemployed are now also having issues, especially after the Labor department implemented some drastic measures to prevent the rampant fraud that was occuring. Callback times appear to be in the 2 week range, but I have heard of longer. I spoke to the Governor about the hardships and frustration this week, and they are aware. They have put 400+ new call center employees in place over the last year, but even so they are having trouble getting back to my constituents. I'll continue to push for better. If you are my constituent in need of assistance and haven't already contacted me, please email me or call my office and provide:
Your first and last name, and middle initial
A good callback number
A good email address
Your residential address
The last four digits of your Social Security Number
A summary of your issue
Date of birth
Over the last decade, the Kansas Department of Labor was underfunded, with a consistent design to make it harder to pay out unemployment insurance claims. The previous administration abruptly ended modernization in 2011. While federal programs like PEUC and PUA provide relief to unemployed Kansans, they also present a challenge in that they require an extraordinary amount of coding and time to implement on our antiquated system. These programs are now up which means that the vast majority of claimants experiencing issues should be receiving those claims soon, but as mentioned above the challenge appears to be in getting into the system and receiving callbacks when people have questions. Continue to stay in contact and let me know how things are going.
COVID-19 UPDATES As of today, the Kansas Vaccine Dashboard shows that 370,498 Kansans are reported as vaccinated — over 12% of our population. You can find the Kansas COVID-19 vaccine dashboard http://ksleglookup.org/. It is updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday by 12:30pm. The Leavenworth/Wyco areas appear to be doing quite well now in terms of getting the vaccines distributed.
FLOOR WORK THIS WEEK The following bills are up for consideration on the floor this week: SB 204: Prohibiting a court from requiring psychiatric or psychological examinations of an alleged victim of any crime. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb204/ SB 99: Increasing the bond amount required for a vehicle dealer license. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/SB99/ SB 95: Exempting motor vehicle odometer reading recording requirements when such recording requirements are exempted by federal law. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/SB95/ SR 1710: Honoring George Washington Carver. http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/SR1710/ SR 1711: Recognizing the members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/SR1711/ SR 1712: Commemorating Marrietta Billinger's 100th birthday. http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/SR1712/
SESSION WORK NEXT WEEK Next week the Kansas Legislature goes into turnaround week, where on Thursday the House receives the bills passed through the Senate, and the Senate receives the House bills. The Legislature is traditionally on the floor all day for several days. Senate (and House) leadership is still considering exactly which ones we will work on the floor -- and that is one of the problems with how our Kansas legislature works. As we get to this point in the session, we will see fewer and fewer people making critical decisions about what will be 'allowed' through to the floor of either chamber. Political parties start playing a big part at this point, and it really becomes political parties allowing the will of a few to dominate. A big bill to watch next week is SB 273, which addresses the Kansas Emergency Management Act. The bill that was worked in the Senate Committee on Judiciary last week does not include an extension of the current emergency declaration, which jeopardizes our state’s ability to ramp up vaccine distribution, to ensure food insecure Kansans have access to community food bank services, and puts federal reimbursement for response costs at risk. We are all tired of this pandemic, but ending the emergency declaration will not end the real health risks and response challenges Kansans continue to face. I look forward to what is sure to be a spirited debate over this next week on the Senate floor.
COMMITTEE WORK Next week I'll give a roundup of bills that passed the House floor or the Senate floor, to then be considered by the other chamber. I can't comment on all committee work this week as there was a big rush to get bills heard and worked as this past Friday was the last day to get many bills out of committee before they get put on hold until next week. However I will say I had some great committee activity this week. Suspended Drivers License bill: Two years ago, my colleague Sen Faust-Goudeau conducted a drivers license workshop in Wichita and hundreds showed up to share their situations regarding suspended drivers licenses. In response, she introduced a bill last session to help but unfortunately it didn't make it through the whole process. This bill (SB100) passed out of my Transportation committee and I was happy to offer the amendment that was worked out between the Conservative group Americans for Prosperity and the victims justice group Kansas Appleseed that helped bring compromise by making the bill better with clarity on how to deal with fines and making tickets more clear. This bill can help hundreds of thousands of Kansans who have a suspended license merely because they haven't been able to pay a fine. The current situation creates a downward spiral for many who cannot drive merely because they faced a fine and couldn't afford it. This is a workforce development bill, a criminal justice bill and bill that reverses the punitive tolling of the poor to fund an underfunded justice system. This was a big effort by the Racial Profiling Board of Wichita: https://racialprofilingwichitaks.com/suspended-license . The hearing for this bill can be heard at: https://bit.ly/3r3lm0B Funeral Escort (ie VFW Rider/Patriot Guard bill): We had a great hearing with local and state level support from people like Ron Wurtele and Bruce Holmes, testifying to the great need for standardizing our statues to recognize funeral processions like 33 other states do. If at a minimum, to allow these individuals to temporarily direct traffic to allow the passing of the funeral is a big step. The bill I introduced (SB131) passed out of the Senate Committee. Last session, the Speaker of the House did not like one aspect of the bill that gave a $20 ticket to those who didn't pull over. I have since modified the bill to take this provision out. I do hope to have the funeral procession bill above the line for discussion this week as its content has passed the Senate and House transportation committees independently.
Sen. Jeff Pittman presents the funeral escort bill with Ron Wurtele and Bruce Holmes.
New VA Home: I'm also hoping we get some positive action this week on the new VA home. I have had some great conversations that give me a lot of confidence there will be. Energy Companies Financial tools: In Financial Institutions, we heard a bill (SB 245 http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb245/ ) that would allow companies like Evergy (formerly WestStar) to 'securitize' their big assets that are becoming too expensive to maintain/run. Their argument is that they can use that money to reinvest in renewable energy sources as well as have lower rates for customers. The opposition wants guarantees that the money would go to lower rates and that's the amendment we put into the bill language. With recent extreme spikes in energy prices, the chairman asked we hold onto the bill to see if we can use it as a mechanism to allow for normalization of rate pass throughs to consumers when energy spikes happen. I thought this was a fantastic idea at first glance and look forward to exploring the idea. On that topic, email me if you see extreme jumps in your energy bills from the past two weeks. I am very concerned. When prices spike by such extreme amounts, these should not be instantly passed onto consumers. Consumers don’t have the option to shop around nor to know the price is spiking and opt out of usage. Transportation: This week we passed a modification to the Ike Ten Year Transportation plan that allows for a certain type of design build agreements to be done at lower project threshhold amounts and also modifies some of the tolling provisions. There were also some good changes that allows for flexibility when/if federal stimulus money comes to Kansas with regard to roads. A couple of weeks ago we approved the Transportation department budget which includes provisions for maintenance and has our Centinnial Bridge as a prioritized upgrade project. Auto Show at the Legends: Mayor Quinton Lucas had some choice words on Twitter to share about his opinion of the Auto Show going from KCMO over to the Kansas Speedway, accusing Kansas of stealing it. Nothing could be further from the case. The legislation that passed out of my Transportation committee merely takes away a barrier to outside auto dealers from doing a demonstration in Kansas, there are no incentives whatsoever from the state. I look forward to it potentially being in my district in June or July. More on this issue here: https://sunflowerstatejournal.com/k-c-mo-mayor-kansas-stealing-auto-show/
RECOGNIZING THE DELTAS
It was an honor to co-sponsor, along with Sen Oletha Faust-Goudeau from Wichita and Sen David Haley from Wyandotte, a Senate Resolution (SR 1711) recognizing the Delta Sigma Sorority on the floor of the Senate this week. The Deltas date back to 1913 where they were formed at Howard University. Where normally the galleries would be filled with women in red and white, during this COVID impacted session we had to speak to the sorority sisters via the Senate camera. Even so, I was glad to stand in solidarity with this group of strong women who raise money for scholarships for young women, and give back to our local community through service and mentoring of these young women. Watch it here, starting ~ 22:30 : https://bit.ly/2MBZYRo
BONNER SPRINGS SUPERINTENDENT TESTIFIES I love when we get locals from our area in the Capitol. Dan Brungardt of USD 204 Bonner Springs/Edwardsville spoke to his concerns regarding the negative impact COVID has had on education and the differing aspects of what school by school vs county wide public health orders can have.
AN EYE ON THE HOUSE K-12 BUDGET COMMITTEE With that, on Thursday, the House Committee on K-12 Budget bundled several bills to create a giant education package which some Representatives are concerned will put Kansas out of compliance with federal guidelines. The bill includes a voucher program, the scholarship tax credit program which redirects public funds to private schools, Governor Kelly’s recommended budget for education, the extension of the state 20 mill tax levy, and various additional amendments. House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer has called it a “Frankenstein” bill which jeopardizes our state’s ability to adequately fund our public schools at constitutionally-required levels.
This week, I was able to welcome my new intern into the Capitol to participate in committee meetings. His name is Quan Nguyen and was a national semifinalist in high school debate. He's now in Washburn studying political science and wanted to get an up close idea of what it's like in the Kansas Legislature.
LOCAL STORY NPR did a spotlight on one of the first female Buffalor Soldiers. Just a few years ago, we unveiled a statue memorial to Cathay Williams at the Richard Allen Cultural Center. Hear more of her story from this recent spotlight "The story of Cathay Williams, a pioneer in the fight against race and gender discrimination. Growing up enslaved in Independence, Missouri, she disguised herself as a man in order to become a legendary Buffalo Soldier." https://bit.ly/37XrMqJ
UTILITIES ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE I'm reposting in case you missed it in my newsletter last week. 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 Also reposting that 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/