Sen. Jeff Pittman's 2021 Legislative Update #9
Legislative Update #9 Week 10
March 22, 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. Wednesday, March 31st, is the deadline for non-exempt bills to be passed out of their second chamber. As such, there should be an influx of work on the Senate floor next week. While next week’s calendar isn’t set yet, the Senate generally meets weekdays at 2:30pm. You can watch live on the Kansas Legislature Youtube Channel.
MEDICAID EXPANSION UPDATE On March 11, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Our US Senators, Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall, and congressmen Tracy Mann, Jake LaTurner, Ron Estes, voted against this bill. Sharice Davids, voted in favor. You can find more information about the ARP and its impact on Kansas here. One important provision of the bill is the expanded incentive program it provides to encourage states to expand Medicaid. Currently, states that have expanded receive a 90% federal matching rate for those covered under expansion. Under the ARP, Kansas would receive a 95% federal matching rate, providing over $460 million to Kansas. In the Senate, a standalone bill, SB 287, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Public Health & Welfare, but the chair has not given any indication that he plans to schedule a hearing on it. We are once again leaving money for Kansas on the table.
COVID-19 VACCINE As of Friday, March 19, the Kansas Vaccine Dashboard shows that 646,793 Kansans are reported as vaccinated — over 22% of our population. In light of the news of an increased supply of vaccines from the Biden Administration, beginning Monday, March 22nd, Kansas will move into the next phase of the vaccine distribution plan. This phase will combine Phases 3 AND Phase 4 into a single phase. Kansans in this phase are: ● Those aged 16 through 64 with serious medical conditions that increase the risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including: ○ Cancer; ○ Down Syndrome; ○ Certain heart conditions; ○ Type 2 diabetes; ○ Other serious illnesses; ○ And pregnant women. ● Those aged 16 through 64 with other medical conditions that increase the risk for severe illness from COVID-19, such as: ○ Asthma; ○ Cystic fibrosis; ○ Liver disease; ○ Type 1 diabetes; ○ Neurologic conditions like dementia; ○ And other medical risks. ● And other non-health care workers in critical infrastructure who cannot work remotely, including: ○ Agricultural and food workers not included in previous phases; ○ Workers performing in-person activities indoors; ○ Utility workers; ○ Social service and government workers not included in previous phases; ○ Logistics workers, such as truck transportation workers and couriers; ○ Water and wastewater workers; ○ Shelter, housing, and finance workers; ○ And information technology and communication workers. Governor Kelly has indicated that her administration anticipates that we will be able to move into the final phase for Kansans deemed to be at the lowest risk – Phase 5 – on an accelerated timeline, meeting the President’s timeline of May 1.
TAX DAY EXTENDED OUT Governor Laura Kelly announced that Kansas 2020 individual income tax, fiduciary income tax, and Homestead or Property tax relief refund claim filings are extended to May 17, 2021, bringing our state in line with the Internal Revenue Service tax-filing and payment deadline extension. If a balance due is paid on or before May 17, 2021, penalty and fees will not be imposed. These extensions are outlined and executed through Kansas Department of Revenue Notice 21-01.
UNEMPLOYMENT I met individually with the Kansas Department of Labor Secretary Appointee. I once again advocated for continued fraud prevention, continued increase of staff at least temporarily to help constituents work through issues and for a long term structural improvement. 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 constitutent 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
BILLS PASSING OUT OF THE SENATE HB2063 – Kansas Police and Fire Retirement System Changes This bill would revise benefits for Tier II members (members who were disabled and die due to “service-connected” condition) of the “Kansas Police and Firemen’s Retirement System.” The new benefits would either be 50% of the member’s salary at the time of their disability with 10% added on for each dependent OR the retirement benefit they would have received if they would have retired. This represents a large increase from the current benefits that helps honor those who have died in service. There is concern though that it could open the state up to many such claims in the future, but it did pass out unopposed. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2063/ The Kansas Emergency Management Act (KEMA) Changes to KEMA were tacked onto SB40--the bill meant to clarify how the state handles emergencies in the future including health emergencies like COVID. Changes do extend the disaster declaration to May 28th, 2021 (previously March 31st) which is important because that gives continued access to federal funds. They do limit the governor’s power to use emergency power, abdicating some decision making power to local school boards and county commissioners, and subject to oversite from the majority-heavy LCC (Legislative Coordinating Council). This committee was never intended to act in the place of the Legislature and we have incrementally abdicated more power to them. The Senate adopted the conference committee report on SB 40; it was a compromise between the Senate, the House, and the Governor’s Office. While there are aspects of the bill I do not love, I am glad we were able to come to an agreement. HB2066 – Streamlining Occupational Licenses Good news for military spouses! HB2066 expedites the process of obtaining occupational credentials in Kansas for military servicepersons and their spouses as well as any prospective resident. The bill also allows the Legislature to issue temporary credentials during a state of emergency. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2066/ The Budget We’re currently working through the budget, with the omni budget projected to come through at the end of session. Although talks are ongoing, I don’t approve of the budget as it came to the floor this week because it is not fiscally responsible. The current budget negotiations would feature a large 450-million-dollar tax cut which leaves us with a deficit of 70 million dollars. This budget cuts K-12 education funding by over $560 million ($235 million for FY 2022 and $332 million for FY 2023), with the biggest reduction for school districts with the highest percentages of low-income students like some of the ones I represent. There are arguments we can use one-time Federal funding to supplement the state budget, but that is exactly how we got into the mess after the 2008 budget crisis--we used federal funding to reduce funding and then had a cliff of funding that never got corrected. SB208 - Banning Transgender Females from girls sports teams One of the more controversial bills, SB 208, seeks to ban all trans girls and women (formerly males who are now identified as females) from participating in elementary, high school, and collegiate level sports on girls’ and women’s teams. Thankfully we stripped out the portion that would require genitalia inspection! Proponents argue that there is an inequality in women’s sports that needs to be rectified through this legislation. However, we really don't have this issue in Kansas and where it exists at a competitive level, there are already rules. For example, the Kansas State High Schools Activities Association (KSHSAA) reports that last year, of over 100,000 student athletes in Kansas, only 5 of them identified as transgender. All kids, including transgender ones, deserve the same chances to learn teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership, and self-discipline, and to build a sense of belonging with their peers. There are ways to celebrate girls’ sports and protect transgender youth from discrimination, making sure that all young people can access the lessons and opportunities sports afford. I voted PASS though that angered some. Here is my vote explanation as published in the Senate journal that day: "On 208: We made good progress for the good of Kansas with earlier bills we passed today, bills that position our state for future military investment and economic development. I came to Topeka as a businessman, to use my skills to help Kansas, not to have government step in to unnecessarily regulate our citizens' social lives. SB 208 is an unnecessary bill in search of a problem. Our athletic organizations have appropriate rules in place. If there were a demonstrated problem, we should address it in a way that is constructive and takes appropriate steps that help all youth be the best they could be. But I feel this unfortunately a punitive bill targeted towards at-risk youth and not a real solution that I can truly support at this time. I do not feel we should even be discussing this bill as it exists and so I actively choose to pass at this time." SB37 – Streamlining Insurance Agent Licenses SB37 makes the life of current and prospective insurance agents much easier. For prospective agents the bill removes the 6 month waiting period after failing the licensing exam. For current agents the bill would reduce the amount of required annual “continuing education credits” (CEC) from 24 to 18, remove affiliation requirements for businesses, and remove annual certification fees for agents associated with a corporation or association. It was a long bill worked out over two years between insurance agent advocates and the insurance regulatory authorities. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb37/ HB2227 and HB2078 – Coronavirus’ Impact on the Courts HB2227 and HB2078 alters some court procedures to adapt to COVID-19. HB2227 allows the Chief Justice to protect the health of the people by allowing the suspension or extension or statutory deadlines and time limitations. The bill also allows the Chief of Justice to authorize online audio-visual communication as an alternative to in person court. This is a good bill that takes learnings from the COVID pandemic and empowers the Judiciary to do their job in adverse circumstances. HB2078 works with HB2227 by suspending the Kansas speedy trial statue in criminal cases until May 1, 2023 and adds provisions that requires courts to consider many more factors when prioritizing cases for trial. This in my mind was more controversial so here is my explanation of vote: "HB 2078 puts a stop on our Kansas statute on speedy trial. I believe we should not be delaying our citizens right to a trial just because of backlog. The military judicial system has adjusted to the pandemic with strict procedures and protective equipment to execute justice. I believe our judiciary should be obligated to do what it could do to ensure our state's expectations on one of our constitutional rights. However, we are where we are with the pandemic and we have serious criminal who pose a serious risk to society that cannot be set free by a technicality, so I appreciate the amendments our body has made to limit this hiatus to two years." I ended up voting yes.
NEW NE KANSAS VA HOME UPDATE Recall I joined Governor Kelly in a release two weeks ago 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 veteran’s home paid for with federal funds. I’m excited as I’ve been working on this bi-partisan effort since last session. Some folks in the House had resubmitted my same bill, so I was excited to go back into the Kansas House of Representatives today to watch HB2021 be debated, presented to the floor by southern Leavenworth Rep Tim Johnson. Glad the House leadership stepped up to support giving bonding authority for a new NE Kansas veterans home, in support of the governors recent announcement of intent to cost share the home with the federal VA. It heads to the Senate next where I will continue to shepherd the process forward. Appreciate the bipartisan work on the House side!
BILLS OUT OF COMMITTEE, NOT ON THE FLOOR There are quite a number of bills that are still below the line, in other words, bills that have passed out of committees in the Senate, but have not, and may never, be debated on the floor. Here are a couple examples: HB2026 – Creating a Drug Abuse Treatment Program HB2026 would create a certified drug treatment program for offenders. The program seeks to rehabilitate, rather than punish offenders. The Kansas ACLU and multiple police associations such as the Sheriffs Association provided their support for the bill. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2026/ SB93 – Requiring Sufficient School District Funding Allocation SB93 would require school districts to conduct educational needs assessments for each school in the district and use this assessment to prepare the district’s annual budget. It gives a state level directive to loacl school districts on performance. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb93/ SB295 – County Control over COVID-19 Distribution and Administration SB295 would allow the board of county commissioners to prescribe the county’s plan for COVID-19 distribution and administration. This would allow the county’s plan to differ from the KDHE’s plan as long as the plan complies with federal law and recommendations. KDHE retains the authority to distribute vaccines to the counties, but will be prohibited from taking any action that would reduce or delay said distributions. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb295/ SB25 – Restrictions on Mobile Phone Use in School and Construction Zones This bill aims to reduce car accidents by prohibiting individuals under the age of 18 from using a mobile phone while operating a vehicle that is either in a school or construction zone. There are concerns thought that it would open individuals to 'prima facia' evidence for committing the infraction and could be used to harass people, even though the bill is meant to protect young drivers and construction workers. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb25/ SB46 – Tax Relief for Retired Individuals This bill would (starting tax year 2021) exempt retirement plans from the Kansas income tax for retired individuals. The bill initially only included retirement plans sponsored by an employer but we have since amended the bill to remove that stipulation. Read more about the bill at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb46/ The biggest issue with this bill is the big fiscal impact to the annual budget and the idea that it isn't gradated to allow for differening income levels.
HIGH SCHOOL POLITICAL CLUB MEMBER VISIT I invited Brooke Collins to the Capitol this week to see committee hearings and to give her exchange student from Italy, Marta, an idea of how state government works. We discussed the issues at hand, including the toxic issue around women's sports and trans athletes, as well as how the balance of the legislature seems off in comparison to the population demographics.
HEARINGS IN COMMITTEES On this last week of regular Senate committee hearings/working of bills for the session, there are a number of hearings of interest. Some will continue to possibly be passed out of committee while some will have to wait until next year to be potentially worked. Totally unrelated to the recent charges against the Senate Majority Leader that have been dropped up to this point, in Judiciary (10:30am, Room 346-S daily) Monday they will hear HB2093 which increases penalties for attempting to elude police. And on Wednesday, they will hear HB2377 revising the laws concerning Driving Under the Influence... Fed & State appears to have a full docket. They meet in room 144-S at 10:30am Daily. Monday will be hearings on concealed carry reciprocity (HB2058). Tuesday will be hearings on the controversial Convention of States as specified by Article V. Proponents believe it is time for a COV to change the direction of the country on a few issues and to open up debate outside of the current political structure. Wednesday, they will hear arguments for prohibiting censorship on social media platforms and some controversial voter laws--the first limits the executive and judiciary from alerting election procedures and another attacks voter tabulation methods, largely in response to false claims of vote manipulation in Kansas during the last presidential election. In Transportation, we have to review some mirror bills we have already heard including bills that have to do with the Eisenhower transportation plan. There are some tweaks to the levels of "design build" options that had a $100 Mil threshold that are being proposed to be brought down to $10Mil An interesting one coming up in Financial Institutions will be a hearing on HB 2378 that passed the House easily. It has to do with peer-to-peer vehicle sharing. We will also be hearing any differences of mirror bills already heard but that passed out of the House to see where there may be changes. On Thursday we will be doing a confirmation hearing of the new Securities Commissioner appointee, Daniel Klucas. That appointment would then go before the whole Senate for confirmation. I continue to watch Commerce (Room 546-S, 10:30am daily) work on Sub HB 2196 regarding the unemployment insurance systems, insurance contributions and the unemployment system. I've been assured the product they are producing will be good by committee members, but we shall see next week. In Education (Room 144-S at 1:30 daily) they will hear HB2039 requiring a civics test requirement in order to graduate. While I support having civics as a curricula item, we have an elected State Board of Education and local elected board officials who are in charge of curriculum and decisions around spending in our schools. I also believe we should have personal finance, practical living in over-regulated society, and other courses, I don't think we need to put these in statute. We'll see how the hearing goes. The weatherman senator (R) from Johnson County has it out for weather driven energy. He is the chairman for Utilities and is having a hearing that would make it more difficult for Kansas to put in wind energy with SB279. Kansas is a national leader on wind energy. Wind & solar produce 43% of all energy in Kansas and provide revenue/jobs according to boostkansas.com. Not sure why the chair is so opposed to renewable energy sources.
EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE APPLICATIONS OPEN Just a reminder that last month, Governor Kelly and the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation 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/
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