Sen. Jeff Pittman's 2022 Legislative Update #8
Updated: Mar 15, 2022
IN THIS ISSUE:
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BONNER SPRINGS/EDWARDSVILLE ANNUAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE EVENT Great to sponsor a table at the Annual Chamber of Commerce dinner in Bonner Springs at the Fuel House, a remarkable venue with a new BBQ restaurant named Quintins. After an update on the state of the local business climate from Executive Director Jen Anders, we heard from the "Voice of K-State" Football, Stan Weber.Here is a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRkAGEl8KVo&t
SENATE FLOOR WORK We are halfway through the regular legislative session. The Senate spent the week on the floor this week working almost 40 pieces of legislation, all of which received the constitutional majority required to pass. 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. The majority of the legislation we passed this week was non-controversial and good public policy. That said, there were points of contention on topics running the gamut from COVID to robots. I will also note that I voted yes along with other Senate Democrats and Republicans on an amendment during a tax debate to refund $250 to taxpayers filing single, $500 for couples, in direct checks to those who filed taxes last year. We can afford it along with a removal of the sales tax on food, the Governor has it in her budget, and it is a good use of a one time surplus we have. The measure failed by 2 votes on the floor however.
EROSION OF VOTING RIGHTS LEGISLATION Two interesting news stories came out in the past week on the state of voting rights and elections in our state. The first, from the Topeka Capital-Journal, reported that the Attorney General and Secretary of State agreed not to enforce part of an election law that the legislature passed last year. I did not vote for that law because I had grave concerns about its constitutionality and its effect on Kansans’ ability to vote. https://www.cjonline.com/story/news/politics/elections/2022/02/25/election-voting-laws-kansas-ks-agrees-not-enforce-ballot-applications/6946698001/ Despite continued insistence from the Republican Secretary of State stating that Kansas elections had no issues after much scrutiny, the Senate Federal & State Affairs committee this week passed a large voter suppression bill, combining a whole series of controversial voting provisions. HB 2056 was gutted in order to insert the these in ● Limit counties to having one ballot box per county unless there are more than 30,000 registered voters; ● Limit drop boxes to only be available during the operating hours of county election offices; ● Require that drop boxes be monitored by an election official or camera where you can see the voter’s face; ● Require that drop boxes have all enclosed ballots back at the election office by 7pm; ● Remove the 3-day grace period for ballots postmarked by Election Day; ● Extend the advance voting period from 20 days prior to the election to 23 days prior to Election Day; and ● Shorten the registration deadline from 24 days before Election Day to 21 days before Election Day. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2056/
KANSAS LEGISLATORS SHOW SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE On Thursday, I was moved at a rally on the Capitol steps to demonstrate Kansas legislators’ support for the Ukrainian government and its people in response to Russia’s unprovoked and premeditated attack on the sovereign nation. The young speakers included students at the University of Kansas from Ukraine who shared their anguish and concern for their home country. Senator Tom Holland has introduced a resolution honoring the people of Ukraine in their current struggle, which I have signed on to.
ATTACKS ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS Unfortunately for our state, Kansas elected a lot of anti-public education legislators in 2020 and a lot of bills have been introduced that make it harder for our school districts to retain funding and for our teachers to teach. SB 455 would allow K-12 students to transfer to and attend school in any school district in the state, which would disproportionately harm poorer districts with more vulnerable students. This bill has hearings in Senate Education on Tuesday and Wednesday. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb455/ SB 496 was blessed last week by Republican leadership, and we can expect further action on it in the near future. The bill capitalizes on national figures’ successful manipulation of parents’ anxieties around learning and growing by suggesting that our public schools – which are subject to strict oversight by the state – are hiding nefarious materials used to brainwash our children. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb496/ Another bill in the House, HB 2662, has moved out of the K-12 Education committee to the House Appropriations committee. This law appears to insert a vast population who may not be credentialed to be able to dictate and interfere in standards of learning set by the Kansas Department of Education. As far as transparency of education; parents the right to know what teachers are teaching and they can access the standards for all grade levels for all subjects at www.ksde.org/Teaching-Learning/Academic-Standards. Our school districts already publish their curriculums on their websites and weekly newsletters. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2662/
LOCAL YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR COMPETITION With record setting investment coming into the state of Kansas the past few years, I was glad to see the young entrepreneurs presenting their ideas in the Grow Leavenworth County - GLC competition, today held at the Basehor Linwood High School. Ideas spanned a phone app for exchange students traveling, a converted school bus kitchen targeted at extreme sports, to lawn care and baking!
ATTEMPTS TO ELIMINATE ALTERNATE ENERGY SOURCES In yet another bill that tries to make things difficult for wind and solar providers, SB 478, which has hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, establishes requirements for wind energy conversion system obstruction lighting to mitigate the visual impact of such lighting systems. The chair of the Senate Utilities committee has had a difficult time getting any support in his committee for legislation seeking to eliminate the renewable energy industry in Kansas. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb478/
DOCTORS AND ADVANCED PRACTITIONER NURSES Senate Sub 2279 expands the ability of APRNs to operate without a supervising doctor. This issue has come up many times in the past years, and appears to be headed to the Senate floor potentially as it has come out of committee. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2279/
CREATING HARDSHIP FOR THOSE ON FOOD STAMPS In 2015, the Kansas Legislature passed the misnamed HOPE Act, which was followed by a trailer bill in 2016 creating additional barriers to restrict food assistance for vulnerable Kansans. According to Kansas Appleseed, food assistance programs such as SNAP help reduce hunger, improve nutrition, strengthen economies, and lift people out of poverty. This year’s SB 501 would add further restrictions to the so-called HOPE act, the most difficult provision would require state agencies to conduct constant cross-checks into other agencies to verify public assistance recipient eligibility and to receive public assistance. This bill was brought by a group outside of Kansas that is trying to do this across the country and has a hearing on Thursday in Senate Public Health and Welfare. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb501/
FORMER MONTANA GOV. BULLOCK Great to meet former Governor of Montana Steve Bullock last week, here shown with Kansas Lt. Gov. David Toland. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Bullock_(American_politician)
BOARD OF REGENTS This week there was some controversy over three of the Governor's appointments to the Kansas Board of Regents – the governing body of the state’s six universities. The Senate Committee on Confirmation Oversight held hearings on the nominees this summer, where senators drilled into the candidates’ political activity and views on teaching Kansas students history. All three nominees were passed out of committee with a recommendation to approve their appointments, but when the Legislature returned in January, leadership called for an additional set of what was often grueling hearings in the Senate Committee on Education. Carl Ice, a former executive with BNSF Railway, passed out of Education favorably. Dr. Cynthia Lane, the former superintendent of Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, and Wint Winter, a former state senator, passed out of committee without recommendation, both seemingly due to their previous affiliation with organizations that advocate for our public schools. Ultimately, all three nominees were approved by the Senate as a whole and are now tasked in overseeing our Kansas universities.
STRIPPING STATE HEALTH OFFICER OF POWERS SB 489. Current law gives the Secretary of Health and Environment to “take action to prevent the introduction of infectious or contagious disease into this state” and prevent its spread. The bill would strike that language entirely, and revoke powers to limit public gatherings to control the spread of infectious or contagious disease. This bill has a hearing in Senate Public Health and Welfare on Tuesday. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/sb489/
$160 MILLION TO SUPPORT CHILD CARE PROVIDERS IN KANSAS With the many child care providers in my district, I wanted to make sure they knew that Governor Laura Kelly this week announced $160 million in grants available for child care providers in Kansas. Qualifying child care providers are guaranteed nine months of payments ranging from $1,800 per month for family child care programs to $18,000 per month for large centers. The grant program will be administered by Child Care Aware of Kansas. The grant application is available starting March 1 at http://www.ks.childcareaware.org and applications are accepted until Nov. 30, 2022. Grant dollars may be used for personnel costs, rent/mortgage, utilities, personal protective equipment, goods or services, purchases of or updates to equipment and supplies, and mental health supports. To be considered for funding, newly licensed or established child care programs must maintain an active permanent license with Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
JUDICIAL SELECTION PROCESS UNDER FIRE Constitutional amendments appear to be on the menu this year for a variety of things. Fueled by resentment towards the judicial branch, on Friday, the Senate Judiciary committee held hearings on two proposed constitutional amendments targeting the Kansas Supreme Court. The first, SCR 1621, would require Senate confirmation of gubernatorial appointments of Supreme Court justices, thereby eliminating the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. The second, SCR 1622, would provide for partisan, statewide elections of Supreme Court justices. More to come on this and another resolution on Rules & Regulations that passed the House a week ago. Personally, I'd like to see a Constitutional amendment that allowed for voter referendum in Kansas to break the tyranny of majority state leadership on issues popular in Kansas, like medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion.
WALKING IN THE STEPS OF OTHERS It was enlightening going through a blind immersion training at the Capitol this week, stepping into the world of what it’s like to be sightless. Envision (located in Wichita, KS) assists with improving the quality of life for blind people ages 2 to 102, including workforce enablement.