Sen. Jeff Pittman's 2022 Legislative Update #10
March 21, 2022 IN THIS ISSUE:
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. Also feel free to forward my email to someone who may be interested in subscribing.
THEATRE IN OUR SCHOOLS DAY AT CAPITOL
Building on the movement we helped build when I first became a State Representative, I hosted Kansas Theatre in our Schools day with Governor Kelly and Senator McGinn. We had students in the Capitol from all around the state, opening up dialogue with their legislators about the important role theater can have on work and life skills development, community impact and more.
Here is a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRkAGEl8KVo&t
SUMMARY Three major things happened last week which have major impact. The first was introductions/passage of maps. Each chamber focuses on its map and makes nearly all the decisions in regard to that map. The Senate effectively made/passed a map that bolsters current incumbents (both R & D). The House map goes far deeper in its cuts to current districts. The House map does a disservice to Leavenworth by cutting it into three districts (instead of one or the current two) and waters down the city vote. It also makes tons of cuts below the precinct level, dividing, for political reasons, basic blocks of how voting is organized. The second big thing was an initial budget was passed. While this seems mundane, we are in a unique position this year to pay for many state priorities that have been difficult to fund over the past 10 years due to bad policies, including education, correction worker pay, roads/infrastructure, COLA for KPERs, mental health and more. While we do that in the budget, we are also in a position to afford some relief measures like taking away the sales tax on food and more. So while there is great movement on some things, for political reasons these relief measures are not in the budget. The third big thing is a series of bills were kicked out of committee last week, meaning that some controversial topics will be on the floor and negotiated over the final next two weeks. Things to watch are education policy bills that put huge burdens on teachers, that attempt to defund certain districts and a constant pressure to pull money out of public education and provide it to private schools; also a whole series of election bills introduced largely from out of state interests to perpetuate the story that elections have been stolen; a health care bill that makes it so students don't have to have any vaccines (not just COVID, but polio etc) to go to school; and some constitutional amendments bills that are trying to be positioned either on the primary or general election day to drive certain types of voter turnout. So let's get into some details. But first...
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS Glad to show Italian Exchange students Alessandra Pastore and Andrea Reva American democracy at work. It's great to have young people involved, as they are the leaders of tomorrow being formed today! Thank you to local high school student Brooke Collins for bringing them up and being a great student ambassador.
REDISTRICTING UPDATE Last Thursday, initial state senate redistricting proposals were introduced. Population shifts over the past decade require a senate district to move out of western Kansas and into the Johnson County area. http://www.kslegresearch.org/KLRD-web/Publications/Redistricting/Kansas-Population-Change-2010-2020-by-Senate-District.pdf Senate Republicans introduced Liberty 1,2 & finally 3 (different versions of the same map that progressively had some changes to my district, while Senate Democrats’ redistricting team introduced their Eisenhower map. I liked that the Eisenhower map follows the guidelines adopted by the Redistricting Advisory Group in December: all districts are within the +/- 5% deviation, the districts are compact and contiguous, existing political subdivisions remain intact, communities of interest remain whole, and the core of existing districts are preserved. http://www.kslegresearch.org/KLRD-web/Publications/Redistricting/2022-Plans/Senate/Liberty_3.pdf http://www.kslegresearch.org/KLRD-web/Publications/Redistricting/2022-Plans/Senate/Eisenhower.pdf NEW SENATE MAP IMPACTS LEAVENWORTH & WYANDOTTE As with the congressional redistricting process, the shotgun process of the introduction of the map and then voting it out within days was disheartening. The hearing on the Liberty map occurred before data was released on the maps, making it difficult for Kansans to craft accurate testimony on the map’s impact on our communities. The Liberty 3 map which passed unfortunately places incumbent Democratic senator Tom Holland in the same district as Republican senator Beverly Gossage, in a district that looks nothing like the area he currently represents. This has a big impact on how Leavenworth County and Wyandotte County will be represented. The new map divides LVCO into three senate districts. If we look at current senators and project them forward, LVCO is divided through the middle and that line north (besides Leavenworth city, Lansing and Basehor) would be represented by Doniphan county Senator Pyle. The area south would be represented most likely by Johnson County Senator Gossage given the partisan breakdown of the new district. This map basically drew current Senator Tom Holland out of his district. In Wyandotte, the map unnecessarily divides WYCO into four senate districts instead of the current 2 and half. Senator Gossage would take over Bonner Springs & Edwardsville, and I retain Piper north of I-70 basically. In the new map, Senate District 5 removes Bonner Springs & Edwardsville from my district, and inserting everything south of Lansing through Basehor. I do look forward to representing this newly defined district. I was able to move the initial map outwards to retain my current area around Lake Wyandotte and a few other areas that were arbitrarily cut out of my current district. HOUSE MAP The House Redistricting Committee met Friday to discuss and make amendments to the only proposed House map: Free State 3. I expect the full House will debate that map next week. http://www.kslegresearch.org/KLRD-web/Publications/Redistricting/2022-Plans/House/Freestate_3_packet.pdf This map has a lot of problems. One of the fundamental ones is the way they drew their lines. It is as if they fully disregarded a basic building block known as a precinct. The map makes a large number of cuts right through precincts, apparently to include certain candidates into certain House Districts and load up or dilute the partisan makeup of districts. The devil is in the details when looking at why these decisions were made. While it's hard to break down a whole map with all those microdecisions made in it, it is easier to breakdown certain areas to see what's at work. In Leavenworth, the city of Leavenworth is cut into three pieces for no reason. The largely non-voting population that includes prisoners and non-voting military to the tune of 8,000 on the Ft. Leavenworth precincts is included in one district (41) that allows for that district to only include the north side of Leavenworth (north of Pennsylvania on the west side of town) and then extend up all through Easton to the northern LVCO border. Traditionally Lansing district 40 then comes up much further on the east side of town diluting that part of Leavenworth. And in a completely mind-boggling remap decision, district 38 from Basehor comes up around Lansing and then cuts off the southwest side of town. This is a clear dilution of voting power for the city of Leavenworth, and is merely a partisan remap supported by local representatives. MAP APPROVAL PROCESS The map must now be approved by the House. Traditionally, the House approves whatever passes the Senate and vice versa, out of respect for the respective chamber’s work on its districts. Once it is approved by the House, the governor has 10 days to sign the map, allow the map to become law without her signature, or veto it. If she vetoes it, I expect the Senate would attempt to override her decision, which requires 27 votes. If the map becomes law, the Kansas Supreme Court has 15 days to determine the map’s validity.
LOCAL LIFETIME IMPACT AWARD Last week, I was able to recognize the extensive impact Mr. Wurtele has had on the Leavenworth community through his dedication, commitment and loyalty. I want to thank Mr Wurtele for his leadership in the VFW Post 56 Riders and Patriot Guard Riders, Inc. escorting hundreds if not thousands of veterans and their family members to their final resting place in the two National Cemeteries in Leavenworth. The State of Kansas recognizes the important role he has played, supporting the final farewells of Kansas Fallen Heroes.
INITIAL BUDGET PASSES THE SENATE One of the main jobs each year of the Legislature is to allocate the budget. The Senate spent Tuesday well into the evening debating the initial budget, which passed by a vote of 23 to 14. We will revisit it during Veto Session, which begins at the end of April, so we can make further adjustments based on the state’s revenue estimates. Some highlights I like include: ● STATE EMPLOYEES RAISES: After failing to give state employees a raise last year due to some (not me!) feeling state employees didn't deserve it due to the fact they stayed employed during the pandemic, this year's budget provides a 5% pay raise across the board. ● FULLY FUNDING PUBLIC EDUCATION AND STRENGTHENING HIGHER EDUCATION: For a fifth straight year since I helped reverse the Brownback failed tax experience, we are fully funding our K-12 schools at constitutionally-required levels, and we are moving closer to having a fully stabilized education system. Unfortunately, it does not yet fund special education at federally required levels yet. ● CLOSING THE BANK OF KDOT: This budget not only fulfills my dedication to closing the Bank of KDOT, where we were transferring money from the highway fund during the Brownback years to cover the budget. This means we can now invest in better roads. ● INVESTMENTS IN MENTAL HEALTH AND I/DD: There are significant investments in behavioral health services and home- and community-based intellectual/developmental disability services, including $4.8 million for mini-grants to assist Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics. ● IMPROVING PUBLIC SAFETY: The budget includes funding to help recruit and retain State Highway Patrol officers, nurses, corrections officers, public defenders, Community Corrections, home and community-based service providers, child protection specialists, and others. ● PAYING OFF OUR DEBTS: The budget pays off KPERS layering payments, resulting in $400 million in savings. It also pays bonds early, improving the state’s structural balance and securing Kansas’ finances in the event of future national or international economic challenges. Disappointingly, the budget does not include much tax relief for the majority of Kansans, and it unnecessarily spends down our revenues so that providing this relief is not fiscally feasible. Our State General Fund is in its strongest position in over 40 years, thanks in large part to newfound fiscally responsible policies for balancing the budget and attracting economic development projects that have brought incredible growth to Kansas. It is well within our means to completely eliminate the state sales tax on groceries, which is the second highest rate in the nation at 6.5%. Taking it to zero will save an average Kansas family over $500 a year. The Legislature’s failure to deliver on these achievable, commonsense policies is a political choice, and it’s a disservice to our fellow Kansans. The budget also does not expand Medicaid, which could help with workforce development for our small businesses that need help. Failing to expand Medicaid this year will cost our State General Fund over $68 million, without accounting for the financial impact we assume when we ensure hardworking Kansans forgo care because they can’t afford medical costs. We have turned our back on over $4 Billion in federal funds coming back to Kansas because of this.
HONORING NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIERS OF THE YEAR Great to help honor the hard work and commitment of this year’s Kansas Guard soldiers of the year at the Capitol, earned through rigorous competitions! They are: *Sergeant Andrew Gonzales: Best Warrior NCO *Specialist Nickolas Decker: Best Warrior Soldier *Sergeant Ryan Marsh: Outstanding Marksman *Airman First Class Olivia M. Wallace: Airman of the Year
NEXT WEEK Next week will be full senate session each day. We will be reviewing bills that have come out of committee, and voting on a select number of them. We will also be starting negotiations with the House on bills either of the chambers have passed that may have differences between what each chamber wants. Monday's main Senate bills focus on education related bills and include a few controversial topics: ● OPEN BORDERS FOR SCHOOL DISTRICTS: SB 455 would allow K-12 students to transfer to and attend school in any school district in the state. It would require school districts to accommodate non-resident students without providing any additional funding for them. School districts already have the authority to accept non-resident students and have policies to accommodate capacity, much like Leavenworth and Lansing do. There is a version in the House that would allow the funding to follow the student, effectively allowing for a mass migration out of some areas to other areas and crippling the budget process for many school districts. This legislation appears to be a path of undermining the way our public schools work and eventually promote vouchers. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/SB455/ ● PARENTS BILL OF RIGHTS BILL (PBOR): With a name like that, what could be wrong? The simple fact is the bill is unnecessary and borderline dangerous in what it could be used to do by an aggressive attorney general. It has veiled language about not the civil rights act of 1964, a section that allows for parents to decide not to vaccinate their kids for anything, a section that allows anybody to challenge and basically open the door to censoring books in libraries for whatever reason, and puts in place burdensome reporting requirements that tie the hands of teachers. Borrowing from a piece written by the Kansas Interfaith Action Executive Director: "Most if not all the important provisions in the PBOR are already in place. It’s easier than ever to know what kids are learning in school; every school district has online portals that keep parents in nearly real-time touch with their students’ curriculum and performance. ... What we have seen in other states is that when such laws are passed, books are pulled from libraries and curriculums, teachers and administrators are harassed, and important lessons about our country’s history and culture are suppressed...The PBOR indicates a level of hostility from some legislators toward public education in Kansas..." http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb496/ ● BANNING TRANSGENDER PARTICIPATION IN SPORTS: Leadership has decided to re-politicize the public's complicated views of transgender individuals, by having yet another vote on the same language that didn't pass last year. While we need to maintain a competitive niche for women as they do in the Olympics and in NCAA and with KS High School Association rules, this bill bans kids participation in sports all the way down through elementary, in intramural and is particularly hateful to an at risk population of kids where only one kid was registered as transgender in competitions in the state of Kansas. As an example, NCAA requires for Women's basketball there be a max testosterone level of <10 nmol/L.(<288.18 ng/dL) which is only achieved typically through therapy, and they have testing dates around the season and championship that have required documentation for D1, D2, and D3. This is a stringent requirement that protects, and NCAA is implementing these policies across all sports in a phased manner, following the lead of the International Olympic Committee. These seem like better approaches than an outright ban; were we to merely adopt these policies, especially for Juniors & Seniors in High School and up, the policy would balance the desires of keeping Women's sports competitive yet. http://kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb484/ UPCOMING BILLS THAT CAME OUT OF COMMITTEE ● CONTROVERSIAL HEALTHCARE/PANDEMIC REACTION BILL: In another bill, Senate Substitute for HB 2280 has brought back language that would require pharmacists to fill prescriptions of off-label medications, no matter how outside the norm like heavy dosing of ivermectin and other such non-standard treatments for COVID-19. It would also prohibit the Board of Healing Arts from investigating physicians who prescribe off-label drugs which is a reaction to one Senator who is also a doctor who is indeed under investigation. It would also require child care facilities and schools to grant “philosophical” exemptions from vaccination requirements for all childhood vaccines, including whooping cough, polio and others. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2280/ ● CONTROVERSIAL HEALTHCARE/PANDEMIC REACTION BILL: SB 489 strips the Secretary of Health and Environment of authority to take action to prevent and control the spread of infectious or contagious diseases. While some would argue that some actions went too far while others would say not far enough, a basic stripping of powers seems plainly reactionary versus setting up some more thoughtful framework of escalatory powers or usage of other learnings. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/SB489/ ● CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ON TAXES: Currently, only constitutional amendments and veto overrides require supermajorities for passage in the Kansas Legislature. SCR 1620 would amend our constitution to require a supermajority for passage of certain bills containing new or increased state taxes. This could be problematic, though admittedly popular. It does tie the hands of the legislature. Representatives and Senators are constantly looking for tax cuts if only to be popular during elections or to satisfy some multinational corporate interest, but it can be very hard to go the other way. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/SCR1620/ ● DRIVERLESS VEHICLES: While the legislature has consistently taken a back seat when it came to driverless vehicles since we didn't want our citizens to be guinea pigs in this area, an autonomous vehicle bill came out of Senate Transportation that will probably make it through the senate. While supportive of new technologies, the language in this bill was put together in less than two weeks and still has some liability holes for when the technology goes wrong, say when a semi-truck with no driver plows through a car. It makes me nervous to have it so wide open at this point... http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb546/ ● MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Three days of hearings on SB 560 give me confidence that some sort of medical marijuana legislation will come out of the Senate Fed & State committee. I do believe there will be an extraordinary amount of regulation around what comes out, and it will probably be inserted by conservative leadership (who initially blocked the legislation coming out of the House) into a bill that won't be able to be modified on the floor to keep it tightly defined. Even so, that would be progress, so keep an eye open for that. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/SB560/
SENATE FLOOR WORK The Senate last week approved 11 bills that go on to the House for final consideration.
UKRAINE RESOLUTION I co-sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 1623 prompted some interesting discussion on the Senate floor. The resolution urges President Joe Biden to stop importing oil and gas from Russia. President Biden signed an executive order on March 8th doing just that. My colleague Tom Hawk had an excellent explanation of vote on this resolution, which I concurred with and have included below:
“Mr. President: I vote yes on SCR 1623. The resolution hits on some key points regarding the ceasing of importing oil and gas from Russia and enhancing energy independence for the United States. I support the fact that President Joe Biden on March 8, 2022, signed an Executive Order to ban the import of Russia oil, liquefied natural gas, and coal to the United States—a significant action with bipartisan support that will deprive President Putin of the economic resources he uses to continue his needless war of choice in Ukraine. While this resolution focuses on oil and gas, it does not adequately mention the importance of renewable energy as part of the goal for United States energy independence. The intent of this resolution to condemn a needless war by Russia and to encourage the reduction of our dependence on oil is right on target. The resolution could be stronger if it would take into account our Kansas success with renewable energy over the past ten years and our joint responsibility to support all sources of energy in the near term to reach our common goal of energy independence.”
60th ANNUAL PRAYER BREAKFAST 70 years ago, President Eisenhower initiated the national day of prayer; today was glad to attend Kansas’ 60th annual prayer breakfast. Damion Cooper inspired the group to speak to our similarities despite our differences with a vision of love, risk, and cultural similarities guided by scripture.