Sen. Jeff Pittman's 2021 Legislative Update #7
Legislative Update #7 Week 8 - TURNAROUND EDITION March 9, 2021 IN THIS ISSUE:
Greetings - THIS WEEK AT THE CAPITOL: HALFWAY THROUGH I am honored to serve as your Senator. My office is located in 124E. Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org . 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. We are halfway through the regular legislative session. The Senate spent long days on the floor this week working over 40 pieces of legislation, all of which received the constitutional majority vote. These bills now move on to the House for consideration. I will highlight some of the major pieces of legislation we addressed this week later on in this newsletter. Moving forward, the Senate can only consider legislation that has either been passed by the House, or has already been introduced in an exempt Senate committee. These committees are Assessment & Taxation, Federal & State Affairs, and Ways & Means. Legislators will take a short break and return to work on Wednesday, March 10, when they will begin working on House bills in committees.
With little time left in the session, I encourage you to contact me with any concerns or questions you have about bills or committee meetings.
VETERANS WINS THIS WEEK IN SENATE EXECUTIVE ORDER FOR NEW NE KANSAS VETERANS HOME: I joined Governor Kelly in a release on Tuesday announcing her executive order to support Kansas veterans through the establishment of a new state veteran’s home in northeast Kansas. The Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs will submit an initial application to the US Department of Veterans Affairs to have up to 65% of construction costs associated with the new veterans home paid for with federal funds. I’m excited as I’ve been working on this bipartisan effort since last session. SB 109/ SB 110 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb109/) were this year’s efforts and we had excellent hearings once again. The House had copied my bills from last year to continue the push there. I was very excited about this development. It’s good for veterans and it’s good for Northeast Kansas! Here is a copy of her order: https://bit.ly/3kZDWEFRegulating Funeral Processions and Funeral Escorts: In a great win for our local veterans, I introduced Senate Bill 131, which allows funeral escorts to direct traffic for funeral processions. The bill clearly outlines right out way scenarios and requirements for vehicles in funeral processions. Proponents of this bill included the VFW Riders, Patriot Guards and the Association of Funeral Homes who explained that while some areas of Kansas, such as Leavenworth respect the funeral escort’s authority other areas do not, leading to car accidents that could easily be avoided. The bill’s clear outlines seeks to remedy these issues and help protect those wishing to grieve. The bill passed in the Senate on Wednesday by a unanimous vote. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb131/
Club and Drinking Establishment Act: In another win for our local VFWs, Senate Bill 126 amends the Club and Drinking Establishment Act by authorizing the sale of alcohol by specific organizations for special events in the banquet hall. Specifically, the bill will authorize clubs to sell alcohol on the club’s premise to individuals during events held at the club. Too do so clubs are required to provide electronic notice at least 48 hours before the event, local law enforcement agencies would then be notified. Proponents of the bill believe that being allowed to host events that serve alcohol would reverse the trend of dwindling membership and attendance. I voted in support of the bill and it was passed in the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 36 – 1 . Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb126/
RECORDING OF LEGISLATIVE UPDATE FORUM/TOWNHALL The Leavenworth/Lansing area had a forum on Saturday Mar 6. They had a range of questions around transportation, helping local businesses, mental health & Medicaid expansion. You can listen to the whole thing here: https://bit.ly/3kZvzJe
UNEMPLOYMENT UPDATES – GOOD NEWS I spoke with the Governor a week ago. She has a solid plan for upgrading the current KDOL UI system. However, I emphasized the need for short term issue resolution—both in those caught up in a fraud case as well as those who are just having a hard time getting into the online system. I continue to work with constituents to escalate their issues. SCALING UP: Good news this past week regarding unemployment: the Kansas Department of Labor will be scaling up and adding over 500 new surge staff members. This past weekend, my understanding is they had staff working all weekend. Surge staff are call center representatives trained in unemployment surge response, allowing them to provide a higher level of service to callers. New staff will be phased in starting on Monday, March 8th, and KDOL will add about 100 staff members each week once their training is complete. At the beginning of the pandemic, KDOL had just 20 staff members. Before this announcement, that number had been increased to 450 people answering calls or directly assisting claimants. I’m pleased that we are more than doubling that number in the coming weeks. UPGRADE FOR CALL CENTER: The Department of Labor also announced that a major server upgrade is set for March 12 and 13. The server upgrade is extremely important as it will allow KDOL to scale up call center services. KDOL does not have the capacity on its existing servers to be able to add these new surge resources. EXPANDING TO 7 DAYS A WEEK: The agency is also extending call center hours with customer service representatives. KDOL will now have operators working 7 days a week. Starting this Saturday, March 6th, representatives will be available:
Saturdays, 8am to 5pm
Sundays, 1pm to 5pm
Monday through Friday, 8am to 9pm
I know it’s frustrating still. If you are in need of assistance, please email me or call my office and provide. I have worked and forwarded many, so let me know if you think we have escalated you before and provide via email (email@example.com ):
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
Note that currently I am forced to prioritize my constituents unfortunately. If you are not my constituent, you can find your legislator and their contact information here. I am hopeful that all of these changes, in addition to those announced last week, will help deliver faster results for Kansans struggling to access benefits. The Department of Labor is still receiving an incredibly high volume of calls from auto-dialers, which do not work with the agency’s phone system and overload it, making it more difficult for others to get through. On February 23rd alone, 54 callers were responsible for over 43,000 calls, and over the past week, KDOL has received over 1.3 million calls from auto-dialers. Please support your fellow Kansans by refraining from using auto-dialers, decreasing call volume, and ensuring everyone can get through.
LOCAL SPOTLIGHT We have many great academics in Senate District 5 and we also have some stellar athletes. Given that the month of March is Women’s History month, I thought I’d stretch that to focus on two women’s teams that made it to regional/state level competition this year:
Lansing (USD 469) Lady Lions Powerlifting placed second at State:
Piper (USD 203) Lady Pirates Women’s Powerlifting team brought home a 4A State Championship—making it the first state championship team in school history!
Lansing (USD 469) Lions Girls Basketball made it through to the State level and compete in Emporia this week.
MAJOR LEGISLATION THIS WEEK We began the week addressing the Kansas Emergency Management Act (KEMA). Kansas has been served well by the current emergency management act for decades, but the pandemic has exposed its limitations. We as a Legislature should be modernizing our emergency management statutes to respond not only to COVID-19, but to future, unforeseen emergencies. This should include tools that would allow any future governor of either party to quickly and appropriately respond to time-sensitive, life-or-death situations without having to jump through partisan hoops. Unfortunately, the legislation we voted on does not accomplish this goal. Of the flaws of this bill, the pre-approval of all Executive Orders stands out as a huge limitation for the Executive Branch. The House passed their version of a KEMA bill on Wednesday, and a conference committee is meeting this week to find a compromise bill that both chambers will approve and send to the Governor for her signature or veto. On Tuesday, one of the major pieces of legislation we took up was SB 235 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb235/ ) would impose a statewide mandate for all Kansas schools to offer an in-person learning option for all students by March 26, 2021. Keep in mind that there is only one school district in the state does not have plans to offer an in-person option by that date. Though I absolutely understand the need to address students who are falling behind due to not being able to adapt to online learning, I did not like this legislation as it is another state-wide, one size fits all mandate taking away local control by duly elected local school board members. We started session on Wednesday with SB88 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb88/ ) which was an emergency funding bill addressing a pressing need for our Kansas communities, which were hit hard last month by the sub-zero temperatures and ensuing energy crisis. This bill establishes the city utility low-interest loan program using state cash reserves to allow cities to apply for loans for extraordinary electric and natural gas costs incurred during that extreme weather event. Governor Kelly signed this bill into law on Wednesday night. As I stated on the floor, while I saw the need for this and voted for it, we need to think about how our citizens will be hit by extreme swings in rates in the future. We need to provide a method to dampen these swings. Sports betting made it through the Senate this week. SB 84 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb84/ ) is on its way to the House. It authorizes sports wagering for persons 21 and older under the Kansas Expanded Lottery Act. The Legislature has considered various bills addressing sports wagering over the past several years. I think this is a good piece of legislation that will bring in new revenues to the state from an activity that is widely practiced in other states and on illegal markets. A major win for mental health services in our state, I was proud to support SB 238 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb238/ ), which establishes certification and funding processes for certified community behavioral health clinics, and expands access to telemedicine by authorizing a licensed out-of-state physician with a telemedicine waiver issued by the Board of Healing Arts to practice telemedicine in Kansas. This is good legislation, and I was happy to vote in favor. I was also proud to vote in favor of an amendment brought by Senator Dinah Sykes (D - Lenexa), which would have also expanded Medicaid, even though the amendment failed 12-23. Our state has already given up over $4 Billion in federal funding for healthcare. Medicaid Expansion would help with mental health, would help with workforce development and help as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
OTHER BILLS OF INTEREST PASSING THE SENATE THIS WEEK SB 172 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb172/ ): This bill, carried by Senator Mike Thompson (R - Shawnee), addresses a problem that has not existed in our state, but has made headlines. It creates harsh punishments which can be widely applied to a variety of crimes at a number of industrial sites just for trespassing. I voted against the bill mainly because it is an example of introducing four new crimes with hefty sentence time for something as simple as spraypainting buildings on a wide range of facilities including rubber plants, steel mills, rail yards, television towers and more. It also has a questionable need for RICO inclusion. It ended up passing the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 29 – 9. Read more about this at https://bit.ly/2POjzir SB 104 (http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb104/ ): This bill would mandate judges to issue a “no run” order on runaway foster youth and require them to be locked up when they are caught by law enforcement. I do not like that this bill makes this order mandatory where there may be mitigating circumstances. It simply does not allow judges to account for a child’s specific circumstances before sending them to a secure facility. I voted NO on this bill, as current law already allows for this type of court order. Authorized Electric Utility Emergency Vehicles: Brought to the legislature by IBEW workers, Senate Bill 167 expands the definition of “authorized emergency vehicles” to include vehicles working for an electric or natural gas public utility when those vehicles are utilized for emergency repairs of utilities that are deemed necessary services or necessary to public services. Proponents of the bill, such as Evergy explain that the bill is essential for the safety of utility workers. The bill requires drivers that are approaching a stationary utilities vehicle to move into a lane not occupied by the vehicle or if that is not possible, reduce speed and proceed with caution. The bill was passed in the Senate on Wednesday by a unanimous vote. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb167/ Child Welfare System Oversight: Senate Bill 120 establishes and regulates a Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight. The committee aims to review and improve the Kansas foster care and adoption services, the level of access to child welfare services (such as health and mental health services), as well as other issues relating to child welfare. At the Senate Committee hearing a member of the Kansas Department for Children and Families provided their support while no opposing testimony was provided. I voted in support of the bill and it was passed in the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 37 – 2. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb120/ Kansas Foster Care Children Annual Report Card: Too often, foster kids fall through the cracks as they move from district to district as they find different accommodations. Senate Bill 51 works in conjunction with Senate Bill 120 to provide further services for children in foster care. The bill directs the State Department of Education and the Department for Children and Families to collaborate and prepare a Kansas Foster Care Children Annual Academic Report Card. This report card would include information such as the graduation rate, standardized test scores, as well as the percentage of foster care students who are promoted to the next grade level, suspended, expelled, and enrolled in mental health programs. Proponents of the bill include members of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, the Kansas Association of School Boards, and Children’s Alliance of Kansas. These groups believe that the report card will aid in identifying academic gaps among students in the foster care system so that the proper agencies can address those gaps. The bill was passed in the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 39 – 0. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb51/ State Child Death Review Board: With tragedies such as that of little Adrian in WYCO (http://rememberingadrian.com/adrians-law/) , Senate Bill 83 amends confidentiality standards regarding information acquired by the State Child Death Review Board. The bill allows the board to disclose information and records to a litany of groups, including law enforcement agencies, county/district attorneys, and governmental agencies. Proponents of the bill include the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriffs Association, Children’s Alliance of Kansas, Safe Kids Kansas, and the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention. They believe that the bill provides much needed information to law enforcement agencies to assist in investigations and prevent future child deaths. The bill was passed in the Senate on Tuesday by a unanimous vote. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb83/ ACT College Entrance Exams: Senate Bill 63 adds new requirements and clarification about the ACT, pre-ACT, and ACT Workkeys Examinations. The bill benefits students by providing free ACT’s to students, eliminating the financial barrier and setting up students for success in college. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate on Wednesday. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb63/ Sign Language Interpreters :Senate Bill 185 authorized the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to establish rules and regulations regarding the sign language interpreter registration process. The bill requires those seeking to interpret to register with the commission and meet guidelines and require 30 hours of continuing education. The bill also creates a reciprocity system which allows for increased mobility between other states for interpreters – applicants from other states may register if the commission believes that they meet the qualifications set in Kansas. Proponents of this bill, which include the Executive Director and Chairperson of the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing explain that the bill will help the commission better provide for the deaf and hard of hearing population within Kansas. SB185 passed with some opposition. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb185/ Property Tax and Natural Disasters: Senate Bill 23 is a copy of the same bill introduced by Sen Tom Holland last year. It expands the authority of county commissions to reduce property taxes on property that is destroyed or substantially damaged by natural disasters. A representative of the Leavenworth County Board of County Commissioners provided support for the bill citing the 2019 tornado that destroyed many buildings within our county. This bill would provide property tax relief for hundreds in Leavenworth and across the state who were affected by natural disasters such as tornadoes. The Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Grain and Feed Association, and more also provided support for the bill. I voted in support of the bill and it was passed in the Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 38 – 1. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb23/ Sales Tax Exemption for Nonprofit Community Care Organizations: Senate Bill 147 provides sales tax exemptions for Nonprofit Community Care Organizations (defined as any entity that is exempt from federal income taxation). Proponents of the bill included the Midland Care Connection who support the bill’s uniform tax treatment for PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) programs. PACE is active in Wyandotte and is expanding services in elderly care in Leavenworth. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb147/ Business Reopening: In support of our small businesses, Senate Bill 283 amends the COVID-19 Response and Reopening for Business Liability Protection Act to extend the expiration date of business liability protection. The new expiration date will be March 31, 2022. I voted to support this legislation which explicitly holds small businesses immune to prosecution from COVID liability so long as they are following established local, state and federal guidelines. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb283/ Summary links to individual Senate side bills passed this week: SB 273, HB 2049, SB 89, SB 26, SB 20, SB 19, SB 51, SB 62, SB 83, SB 86, SB 106, SB 120, SB 126, SB 142, SB 143, SB 159, SB 160, SB 172, SB 175, SB 261, HB 2022, SB 23, SB 63, SB 78, SB 90, SB 91, SB 101, SB 102, SB 104, SB 116, SB 122, SB 124, SB 127, SB 131, SB 167, SB 170, SB 178, SB 235, SB 88, SB 40, HB 2022, SB 84, SB 283, SB 238, SB 185, SB 147, SB 119, SB 98, SB 72, SB 71
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES NEWS Peer to peer cars may soon be an option. The House is sending a bill over that will allow Kansans to share vehicles, kind of like Airbnb lets you rent your home. This peer-to-peer car sharing bill clears the way for someone to share their care on a short-term basis at a cost. It has the a great convenience factor for people who may not want or be able to afford a car, but need one on occasion. I’ll note other House originated bills next week that are coming over to the Senate for consideration.
ENERGY AND UTILITIES UPDATES Governor Kelly announced in a release on Monday that her administration is taking the following actions to address higher than usual utility costs for Kansans:
The Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) has instructed utilities under its jurisdiction (Evergy, Liberty, Southern Pioneer, Kansas Gas Service, Black Hills, Atmos, and the City of Eskridge) to defer the extraordinary costs associated with cold weather.
Utility companies regulated by the KCC are now required to submit what costs they incurred because of the storm, along with a plan detailing what steps they are taking to mitigate the cost to consumers.
KCC is working on a plan to spread extra costs out over several months or more to soften the impact on customers.
Governor Kelly and the KCC asked the Federal Regulatory Commission to investigate the events that led to a utility shortage and aid the state in protecting consumers from high costs.
All KCC regulated utilities are offering payment plans to help customers spread out costs. Kansans should contact their utility provider to explore available options. There is also utility relief for low-income Kansans through the Low Income Energy Assistance Program. 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 here. Kansans can find a complete list of agencies and organizations providing assistance in their area here.
COVID-19 UPDATES The big news on the COVID-19 front is the approval by the Food and Drug Administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which provides strong protection against severe illness and death from the virus. What makes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine different from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is that it only requires one dose. This means that it can be deployed more efficiently and open up opportunities to vaccinate a wider swath of the public. Kansas expects to receive more than 23,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, for a total number of approximately 150,000 doses coming into the state this week. Last week, Governor Kelly signed Executive Order #21-06, which allows state healthcare professionals such as pharmacy students, dentists, paramedics and others who may administer injections or inoculations within their scope of practice to administer a coronavirus vaccine that is approved or authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration. As our vaccine supply ramps up, this will help ensure as many Kansans are vaccinated as quickly as possible. There is also an update on Governor Kelly’s Back to School vaccination plan for teachers: the state expects to complete first doses by the end of this week, and second doses are expected to be complete by the first week of April. As of Thursday, March 4, the Kansas Vaccine Dashboard shows that 411,379 Kansans are reported as vaccinated — over 14% of our population. You can find our COVID-19 vaccine dashboard here. It is updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday by 12:30pm.
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/
HIRE FUND RELIEF If you missed it last week, I”ll repeat the announcement from a week ago. 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.
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