Sen. Jeff Pittman's 2021 Legislative Update #8
Updated: Mar 30, 2021
Legislative Update #8 March 15, 2021
IN THIS ISSUE:
Greetings - 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.
Sen. Pittman with Dr. Nicole Yedlinsky discussing potential changes to sports medicine statutes in Kansas.Legislators had a short week this week after a break following the turnaround deadline last Friday. The Senate as a whole has now taken action on 77 bills. On Thursday, the Senate debated one bill and two appointments. I voted in favor of SB 50 and both appointments, though the appointment of Robert Marx to the Board of Tax Appeals failed. From the moment he was nominated, Marx was targeted by the Kansas Chamber – a special interest organization that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting extremist legislators – for their fear that his 40+ years of experience would lead to a conflict of interest in cases the Kansas Chamber has a substantial interest in. Senate Bill 50 also passed. It would require marketplace facilitators to collect and remit sales, use, and transient guest taxes and 911 fees from sales made through their platforms and removing click-through nexus provisions. This puts our local retailers who have to collect sales tax on everything on a somewhat equal footing. Oddly the Senate GOP leaders rejected this proposition a couple weeks ago when they were pushing for a big tax cut for giant multinational corporations. The Senate also voted on a motion to concur on SB 13--the so-called truth in taxation transparency act. (When a bill passes the Senate, it then goes to the House for consideration. If the House makes no changes to the bill passed out of the Senate, it goes to the Governor for her signature or veto. Often, amendments do come up in House committees or on the House floor, which results in two different versions of the bill. The Senate can vote either to concur or non-concur. If the Senate votes to concur, they approve of the changes made by the House, and that version of the bill goes to the Governor for her signature or veto. On the other hand, if the Senate votes to non-concur, a conference committee must be formed with members of the House and Senate to work out the differences and identify a compromise. This is called a conference committee report, which both chambers then vote on.) While I wasn't thrilled with the bill as I think the House of Representatives made some mistakes by going overboard for political reasons, the Senate voted to concur with the House changes to SB 13, one of the first bills we passed this year which lifts the property tax lid and requires more public disclosure when local governments collect extra tax dollars from rising property values. The House version of the bill added schools into the mix. While there are some concerns about the undue burden this could put on our school districts who receive funding from property taxes, I was assured that this issue, along with public comment timeline discrepancies, will be addressed in another bill.
UNEMPLOYMENT UPDATE The Kansas Department of Labor was scheduled to conduct server migrations starting Friday, March 12. The contact center representatives will be unable to take calls on Saturday, March 13. The migration was expected to be completed and the contact center be open by 1pm Sunday, March 14. I am hoping this occurred at the writing of this newsletter, though the Department does not expect any delays in benefits due to the server migration. Coming from a tech background, I know that there can always be issues as there were at the beginning of February, so I hope it went smoothly. Keep in mind that there is a GOP-leadership effort to curtail unemployment benefits to the levels that were put in place in 2013. We had expanded to pre2013 levels of 26 weeks, but SB 177 inserts the legislature into overseeing modernization of the Labor Department’s computer system and reduces the weeks of eligibility for unemployment benefits. The Associated Press states that unemployment fraud nationally has hit $63 billion. Kansas had to stop the bleed about 2 months ago with some very restrictive identity verification systems. Unfortunately that had the effect of making it very difficult to get into the UI system. As a reaction to this, the Kansas House passed sweeping legislation last week that will come over to the Senate for review and possible fixing. This is the same as SB 177. I like that it require fixes to the antiquated unemployment system, however it gives a timeline that may or may not be possible with an unknown cost. It also puts in place a 13-member committee that would oversee efforts to modernize the agency’s aging computer system--but those members may or may not have any technical or unemployment system experience. So there are definite issues and it seems more politically motivated than it does practical. There is another ironic twist. While it purports to want to help those citizens who are owed their unemployment, it actually reduces the number of weeks of eligibility for workers who are unemployed. The bill would move the state back to a sliding scale where the unemployment rate determines how many weeks of benefits a laid-off worker is eligible to receive. The unemployment rate would have to reach 6% to receive 26 weeks of benefits, the same way it was under the old scale that was approved in 2013. This is bad timing.... KDOL is also awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) of 2021’s unemployment extensions in Kansas. The extended provisions will provide additional unemployment compensation to unemployed Kansans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. What we know now is that, under the ARP, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) will provide up to an additional 29 times an individual’s calculated weekly benefit amount to a maximum of 53 times an individual’s calculated weekly benefit amount. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will provide up to an additional 29 weeks of benefits to a maximum of 79 weeks. Both of these programs, along with the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, will be extended through September 6, 2021. They were previously scheduled to expire after the week ending March 13, 2021. The Kansas Department of Labor does not anticipate significant disruptions for claimants once the implementation process for the ARP extensions is in place. I am very glad that the Governor authorized more workers to deal with unemployment, and the rate of callback has increased. 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
I met with Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt this week to go over a number of issues surrounding Insurance and Securities this week. Their website is: https://insurance.kansas.gov/
COVID-19 UPDATES As of Friday, March 12, the Kansas Vaccine Dashboard shows that 525,926 Kansans are reported as vaccinated — over 18% of our population. You can find our COVID-19 vaccine dashboard at https://www.kansasvaccine.gov/158/Data
COMMITTEE BILLS HEARD As I said it was a short week, but there were some bills of interest heard. Next week will entail a busy pace of hearings on House Bills that made their way to the Senate. This past week bill hearings of potential interest: SB76 – Golden Years Homestead Property Tax Freeze. As a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 76, I testified this week to a bill that gives some certainty, via a refund mechanism, the tax assessment valuation of a home for those who qualify. It establishes the golden years homestead property freeze act, where claimants, to qualify, must either be at least 65 years old or a disabled veteran. Additionally, the claimant must have a household income of less than $50,000 and the value of their property must be less than $350,000. If claimants qualify, they could be eligible to receive a tax refund of up to $2,500 per tax year, financed via the State, keeping the local government budgets untouched. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb76/
HB2078 – Temporarily Suspending Speedy Trial Rights for those watching how the state handles our version of our US Constitutional right to a speedy trial. This bill suspends the Kansas specific speedy trial statute in criminal cases until May 1, 2024 and adds provisions that requires courts to consider many more factors when prioritizing cases for trial. These factors include safety of proceedings to the participants as a result of COVID-19 and many other factors relating to availability of all parties involved. While I do not want murders running free on a technicality, this compromise extends out three years. One wonders why they courts couldn't enact better protections as the military courts have done, instead of just broadly extending trial lengths across the board. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2078/ HB2064 – Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) is a program that I spoke with various law enforcement employees about. This bill allows some flexibility. House Bill 2064 amends the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) by making elections revocable, members who elected a DROP period of less than five years will now be able to revoke said election (with employer authorization) and extend their DROP period to a maximum of five years. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2064/ SB219 – Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons for my many realtors out there. Senate Bill 219 requires any individual who regularly (two or more occasions in any 12-month period) sells, buys, or markets real estate to be licensed by the Kansas Real Estate Commission. The commission will be authorized to assess civil fines of up to $1,000 per violation, issue cease and desist orders, and subpoena individuals who do not hold a license. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb219/ HB2112 – Revising the Self-Service Storage Act for the ever expanding self-storage industry in our high renter areas, this bill revises many parts of the Self-Service Storage Act. The bill seeks to protect rental storage unit owners. The bill would limit claims of damage or loss of personal property in storage units to the maximum value of personal property that was specified in the rental agreement. It would also permit the online sale of personal property stored in a rental unit that has been defaulted upon. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2112/ SB149 and SB286 – COVID-19 Business Relief are bills aimed at providing relief to businesses majorly impacted by the COVID pandemic. The bills provides funds, income tax credits, reimbursement for property taxes, and creates a business loan forgiveness program. SB149 outlines qualifications for the property tax reimbursement – claimants must own a business which was forced to either shutdown or limit capacity by a county. Claimants must then apply for reimbursement with the board of county commissioners. The county treasurer will then determine the validity of the claim and reimburse the claimant using the county general fund. Read more about the bills at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb149/ http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb286/
LOW-INCOME ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM EXPANDED According to the Governor, effective immediately, the Kansas Department for Children and Families is extending the application deadline for LIEAP (Low-Income Energy Assistance Program) to May 28. Additionally, the agency is expanding the income requirements from 130% of the federal poverty level to 150%. DCF also will review all previously denied applications during the 2021 LIEAP program year. Any cases that now qualify under the new income threshold and meet other eligibility criteria will receive the benefit. To qualify for the program, applicants must be responsible for direct payment of their heating bills. The level of benefit varies according to household income, number of people living in the home, type of residence, type of heating fuel and utility rates. Applicants need to have made payments on their heating bill two out of the last three months. Those payments must be equal to or exceed $80 or the total balance due on their energy bills, whichever is less. LIEAP applications are available at local DCF offices and through partnering agencies. They can be requested by calling 1-800-432-0043. To apply online, click here. For more information, click here: http://www.dcf.ks.gov/services/ees/Pages/EnergyAssistance.aspx
'BLESSED' BILLS -- MAKING SURE A BILL DOESN'T DIE AN EARLY DEATH As we get into the second half of the session, for bills that have not passed out of committee (and there are a lot), Senate and House leadership pick certain bills to survive our 'turnaround'. These are 'blessed' through a procedure of passing them through a certain committee to make them exempt from being sidelined until 2022. That means someone in leadership has an interest in them, either personally or as a favor to another legislator. Here are some bills in the House to keep an eye on that are exempted thus far, picked by the few in leadership: HB 2382: Puts a line item in the budget for Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services for individuals waiting to receive intellectual disability home-based services, and gets rid of state foundation aid and impacts school districts, forcing them to spend down cash balances. HB 2004: Surrounding right to appeal involuntary discharges from adult residential facility. HB 2067: The so-called Rose capacities school requirement bill, forcing districts to raise themselves to a certain standard established by the Rose study done years ago. HB 2119: This is a massive education bill that has provisions around spending for the Department of Education, tax credits program for private school scholarships, education saving accounts, which will allow students to take base state aid to a private school and limits remote learning. HB 2150: Has to do with abuse, neglect or fiscal exploitation of adults. HB 2154: Allows private companies to install cameras on school buses to catch potential violations. HB 2160: Establishes certification and funding for certified community behavioral health clinics. HB 2219: Targets developmentally disabled with 50% income tax credit for businesses. HB 2281: Important bill around implementation of 988 as the suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. HB 2287: Creates Kansas scholarships who are in post-secondary educational programs in high-need career fields. HB 2301: Requires high schools course in personal financial literacy. HB 2329: Appears to be an administrative necessity that changes Kansas Corporation Commission rules adopted to ensure conformity with the federal Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act. HB 2339: In a reach to appease those who feel the recent election was stolen, this expands definition of election tampering focusing on altering votes already cast and manipulation of tabulations. HB 2346: Allows release of defendants to a pretrial supervision program. HB 2363: Makes it easeir to recruit public defense by lifting an $80-an-hour cap for Kansas defense lawyers. HB 2366: Requires prosecutors to disclose their intent to introduce testimony from a jailhouse witness and to forward information to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. HB 2373: Makes KDADs establish a mobile crisis program for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. HB 2389: Authorizes a notice to appear for unlawful possession of marijuana to be deemed a complaint under the Kansas Code of Criminal Procedure. Bills given extra life in the Senate include: In the Senate SB 174: A bill allowing advanced-practice registered nurses to work independently SB 146: Changes the oversight for state-certified ignition interlock manufacturers SB 150: Regulating attorney advertising SB 158: Prohibits a vehicle from being towed involuntarily outside of Kansas SB 161: Allows automated delivery vehicles on city streets and sidewalks. It's the Fed Ex vs Amazon bill SB 173: Reauthorizes the high density at-risk student weighting. SB 177: Inserts the legislature into overseeing modernization of the Labor Department’s computer system and reduces the weeks of eligibility for unemployment benefits SB 199: Has to do with short-term, limited-duration health plans. I'm not a fan primarily because they will not necessarily cover pre-existing conditions and should a condition be found during coverage, the plan can drop the consumer and thus leave them out to dry. SB 206: Provides new requirements for condemning private property. SB 212: An anti-vaccination bill that supporters say would prohibit the state health secretary from permanently requiring additional immunizations to attend a child care facility or school. SB 213: An anti-vax bill, it would prevent employers from mandating vaccines-not just COVID. SB 219: Relates to real estate brokers and salespersons (see above) SB 245: I am working on this one in FI&I. It provides for financing of electrical assets with securitized bonds. It also will potentially provide a 'smoothing out' mechanism for rate spikes like were experienced last month. SB 37: Updates and changes insurance agent renewal licensure requirements SB 57: Suspends statutory speedy trial provisions for all criminal cases filed before the law is enacted. SB 93: Requires school districts to have enough funding to achieve the 'Rose' capacities. 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 (i.e., 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.
RURAL BROADBAND ANNOUNCEMENT On Thursday, Governor Kelly announced 14 broadband improvement projects totaling $5 million will improve access to high-speed internet for homes and businesses in 18 communities statewide. The Broadband Acceleration Grant program was created in 2020 to bring critically needed broadband access to Kansas communities. Funded through the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program (IKE), the Office of Broadband Development administers the program to make more ‘last-mile’ connections possible across the state. Below is a table which shows the communities impacted by these awards.
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/